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Using data to better treat eye diseases such as myopia

Singapore has one of the highest prevalence of myopia in the world and it is expected to impact up to four in five adults by 2050. To tackle this vision crisis, we have to see things differently and start thinking of using data more effectively.

Using data to better treat eye diseases such as myopia

Singapore has one of the highest prevalences of myopia in the world and it is expected to impact up to four in five Singaporean adults by 2050.

Never in recent history has the world focused so urgently on a single health goal — to fight Covid-19. In just a short space of time, new ways of working were formed, and digitalisation and innovation were sent into overdrive.

There is another longer-term epidemic that currently affects over 2.2 billion people worldwide — near and distance vision impairment also needs our attention and collective effort to overcome.

Untreated vision problems such as myopia have ripple effects on health, human connections, education, and livelihoods.

Singapore has one of the highest prevalences of myopia in the world and it is expected to impact up to four in five Singaporean adults by 2050.

We need to view this epidemic with a sense of urgency, push ourselves to innovate and change the trajectory of eye health and rethink our approaches beyond the normal gamut of product innovations.

Specifically, we need to start thinking of using data in the treatment of eye diseases like myopia to give the next generation a clearer future.

CREATING A GAME-CHANGING EDGE

If you think about it, our way of life in today’s world is almost fully data-driven, and data analysis is everywhere.

Google completes our searches before we’ve typed in even a full word, Netflix predicts what films we’d enjoy, and Amazon has recommendations on what you would want to buy.

Harnessing the power of data can make a huge difference to enable better patient outcomes, especially in a public health context.

Individual experiences form datasets, which in turn shape our understanding of the current issues much more deeply.

However, more importantly, through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, these datasets can allow us to predict future trends and help us make decisions to shape the future.

From an eyecare professional perspective, it allows us deeper patient understanding to deliver more people-centric eye care.

For example, my colleagues at Johnson & Johnson started to notice a trend of people not going for their regular follow-ups with their eye care professionals once they have been prescribed glasses or contact lenses.

Upon looking deeper into consumer-consented data, we realised that it was because eye health was not a top-of-mind concern for patients.

Many people downplay the current state of their eye health, despite the strain on their eyes increasing due to the amount of time spent on devices.

To address this gap, we collaborated with AI Singapore, the Government-backed national programme to boost the country’s AI capabilities, under its flagship 100 Experiments Programme.

The collaboration used Johnson & Johnson’s existing consumer data to predict which consumer group would have the highest tendency of falling off-course in their eye health journey.

By analysing their behavioural data, we were able to intervene quickly by sending them timely, personalised reminders to visit their eye care professional for a check-up.

We have seen promising results so far, and are looking to expand this approach across the region into countries like Australia and Hong Kong.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; our journey does not end here.

As we look ahead and continue to take big strides to change the trajectory of eye health, there are three things to think about.

Firstly, how can the Government and private organisations work together to create an environment that encourages sharing of analytical data, but at the same time protects the privacy of individuals?

It is about using data for the greater good. For example, the Government is focused on accelerating its Smart Nation deployment through partnering and co-creating with industry.

Singapore’s recent national health programme, LumiHealth, collects lifestyle data to enable users to access digital tools and apps to stay fit and take note of their well-being. 

But cybersecurity is a legitimate concern, especially with such a significant level of data collection and sharing.

As eye health progressively becomes anchored on data and digitalisation, there is a need to protect users and inspire trust by investing in digital infrastructure to ensure that the foundations for secure data sharing are in place.

Secondly, can we map lifestyle data and digital behaviours to potential health issues, and subsequently connect patients to the right eye care professionals?

I recently came across research suggesting that early Parkinson’s motor issues can be detected by studying one’s typing patterns on a keyboard, and wondered if there are similar patterns we could pick up on in relation to eye health.

Information gleaned from measuring prolonged screen time to even tracking what you eat may provide useful insights to guide us in addressing the global vision crisis.

Lastly, how do we leverage data and innovative technology to tell more personal and compelling stories?

Can we use Augmented Reality (AR) to create immersive experiences for us to understand what it is like for the 2.2 billion people living with vision impairment, or for eye care professionals to educate the public on eye health and proper eye care?

By drawing on patient data and leveraging AR, in the not-so-distant future, eye care professionals may even be able to effectively diagnose and treat patients outside of consultation rooms.

As we set our sights on a future where everyone can have the opportunity of clear vision, we must approach the fight against myopia and other eye health issues with the same vigour and the same out-of-the-box innovative thinking as we have done with other widespread healthcare issues.

I hope that we all are able to embrace data and digitalisation, so that we are empowered to better understand and anticipate patients’ eye health needs, and ultimately be able to deliver better eye care to them.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Vaibhav Saran is area vice-president for vision care in the Asia-Pacific, Johnson & Johnson Vision.

Related topics

myopia Artificial Intelligence big data eyesight

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