Prepare for the ‘bionic eye’

The "bionic eye" has arrived--and soon will be covered by Medicare.

The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System is the first device ever approved to restore functional vision in the legally blind. It has been approved for reimbursement under Medicare, according to the device's developer, Second Sight Medical Products of Sylmar, Calif.Argus II Retinal Prosthesis Implant

"Optometrists will have an important role to play."

With the new retinal prosthesis already receiving widespread media coverage, optometrists should be prepared to answer patient questions and refer patients for implantation when appropriate, according to the AOA Vision Rehabilitation Section (VRS).

How the Argus II works

The Argus II sends a signal from a small camera, mounted in the patient's eyeglasses, to the patient's retina, thereby restoring some sight, according to the manufacturer. It will be used initially for patients with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa. Animation of Argus II on the eye

This first-of-its-kind retinal prosthesis was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier in 2013, under a humanitarian device exemption designed to speed introduction into the U.S. market. The device had already been approved in the European Union.

Medicare will begin covering the devices Oct. 1, 2013.

Optometrists will be involved

"Optometrists will have an important role to play in providing pre- and post-assessments for these prosthesis patients," said Bhavani Iyer, O.D., AOA VRS Council member. As director of the new Center for Visual Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, Dr. Iyer will be providing care for retinal implant patients in the Houston area.

In addition, vision rehabilitation practitioners will play a crucial role in helping patients adapt to the implant, according to the AOA VRS. The implant does not provide normal vision but rather sends signals that patients eventually learn to interpret, according to the manufacturer.

"I am told it will provide light perception and projection-like vision," Dr. Iyer said. He expects vision rehabilitation practitioners to do blind rehab, basic activities of daily living skills training, orientation and mobility training, among other tasks.

The Argus II was approved for marketing in the U.S. under a humanitarian exemption. The AOA VRS believes optometrists will play a critical role in providing data for follow-up studies to document the device's efficacy.

Dr. Iyer and the VRS Council are developing a list of tests appropriate to assess function post-implant.

September 19, 2013

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