The technology revolution in vision therapy
There is currently a technology revolution going on in vision therapy. The falling costs of virtual reality and eye tracking technologies along with universal adoption of mobile devices have sparked hundreds of startups in the entertainment space. Some of these startups have found their way into the eye care field and the results have been impressive, to say the least.
This year’s COVD Annual Meeting in Jacksonville, FL was the ultimate showcase of cutting edge tech in vision therapy.
In office therapy
Vivid Vision was the first company to bring virtual reality technology to vision therapy two years ago. Since then they have grown their therapy offerings to include 13 immersive exercises that are used to help treat amblyopia, strabismus and vergence disorders.
The platform uses VR headsets that combine two high-resolution OLED displays to create a rich stereoscopic experience for the user.
The doctor or therapist supervising the therapy session can independently adjust the clarity, contrast and depth cues being delivered to each eye. This adjustability allows for easy loading of bi-ocular and binocular activities based on the patient’s abilities.
Optics Trainer made a splash at the conference with their eye-tracking therapy platform. The system offers fun simple games where the user controls the game via their eye movements.
The games train oculomotor skills, peripheral awareness, and visual information processing. Being able to control a game with nothing more than your eyes is an oddly satisfying experience that most people can’t fully appreciate until they try it themselves.
Eye Carrot showcased a new app called Binovi which was designed to maximize the benefits of home vision therapy.
The app supports patients during home therapy by offering instructional videos and access to live help via chat. The app also has built-in tools to help patients complete therapy exercises such as timers and metronomes. Best of all, it sends reminders to patients to complete their home exercises in order to improve compliance.
Vivid Vision’s home therapy system is a companion to the in-office system and offers VR vision therapy at home by utilizing Samsung’s Gear VR system. Gear VR consists of a Samsung Galaxy S-series phone and the Gear VR headset. The patient purchases this hardware on their own and uses it in conjunction with the Vivid Vision app. Each user has an individualized profile which loads specific exercises and settings determined by their doctor.
Sports Vision Therapy
Some of the most impressive in technology in the sports vision arena were showcased by Senaptec. Their trobe training goggles are likely the most well-known device of all the devices mentioned thus far thanks to its use by high profile athletes like Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard.
The goggles intermittently occlude the athlete’s eyes in a pattern and frequency that is wirelessly programmed by the trainer via the included app. Training with these goggles helps athletes improve visual information processing speed and promotes visualization.
The company also showcased their Sensory Station system which uses a large touch screen display to assess several vision skills such as visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and stereopsis.
The system also assesses sensory-motor and cognitive skills and offers a training platform to enhance those skills. The feature that sets the Sensory Station from similar products is the fact that it allows you to compare any athlete’s performance to that of thousands of athletes whose stats are stored on Senaptec’s cloud database.
The comparison can be narrowed down by sport, position played and level of competition. The database currently has data from youth sports to the top professional athletes and it grows as new data is automatically uploaded to the cloud from existing users.
This new generation of vision therapy technology is clearly impressive, but it begs the question: Can these devices be practical therapy tools in the average optometric practice? Or are they purely a novelty?
Time will tell, but it’s clear to see that this generation of therapy technology has unique features that can’t be matched by traditional therapy modalities. These features include:
Digital infrastructure: Practitioners can improve productivity within their practice by using digital therapy systems to reduce the time spent on setting up, dismantling and maintaining physical therapy tools from one therapy session to the next.
Built-in automation: The automated data collection and aggregation features within these tools have the potential to improve the quality of in-office therapy sessions by allowing vision therapists to be more engaged with the patient and less occupied with data collection.
Entertainment value: Imagine patients being as excited to do vision therapy as they are about watching a 3D movie or playing an immersive video game. What could this type of engagement do for patient compliance and progress in therapy?
WOW factor: It’s not easy for patients to appreciate the sophistication of most optometric equipment because most of our equipment is only intended to be understood by OD’s.
The hardware in these new therapy devices, on the other hand, was crafted by the entertainment industry with the intent of being universally enjoyed and appreciated. The wow factor from these advanced technologies will inspire patient confidence in vision therapy and promote buy-in.
The platforms mentioned here are the first of a new wave of cutting edge tools that will enable optometrist to provide care in ways that we may not fully appreciate today. It’s an exciting future for vision therapy and for the patients who will be served by it.