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Thursday / July 18.
HomemicontactSingapore and Robots

Singapore and Robots

When a conference in Singapore looked to the future of optometry, delegates agreed there’s a long way to go before we’re replaced by androids.

I recently completed a lightning fast trip to Singapore to present and debate at the Johnson & Johnson Vision (JJV), Vision Care Institute (TVCI) – Singapore Optometric Association (SOA) symposium. I was in and out in 27 hours. My talks on clinical, science-backed ocular surface and contact lens management were well received. They dovetailed nicely with talks on dry eye diagnosis, connecting with patients, the science behind improved silicone-hydrogels, lens surface properties and patient education.

In the twenty-five years I’ve been visiting Singapore, I’ve noted great improvement in optometric practice and professionalism. Although they are not yet licenced for diagnostic and therapeutic drugs, there are many skilled and passionate practitioners in the region, and I believe that in time, this evolutionary development will take place.

Recent micontact columns have covered technology, artificial intelligence (AI), the use of high tech equipment to enhance outcomes, and Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’. Therefore, it was interesting to debate the topic ‘Will Robots Replace Primary Eye Care Providers?’.

human-like Androids do not yet have the capability of fine movement, nor the communication skills and powers of deduction that would set your average patient at ease

For the motion, were Melbourne-based Singaporean research optometrist Jia Jia Lek and Singaporean optometrist Eileen Chua. They did a great job trying to convince the audience that it’s just a matter of time before robots replace us.

Charley Scales of JJV R&D, and I were against the motion. Although we’re both great fans of technology, we feel we should use it and AI to benefit patients. Our argument – that robots are a way off replacing primary eye care practitioners – was well received. While we acknowledged that robotic machines can do fine surgery and AI can make better diagnoses of, for example diabetic retinopathy, we made the point that human-like Androids do not yet have the capability of fine movement, nor the communication skills and powers of deduction that would set your average patient at ease. The fine dexterity required for handling and placing a contact lens on the eye, for example, is still not within the capability of a mobile humanoid. It’s unlikely that currently practicing optometrists will become obsolete and be replaced by machines.

We were pleased to win convincingly.


In the Q&A session we discussed generic replacement of disposable contact lenses by online sellers. There are a few companies who, in my opinion, are illegally – or at the very least – unethically replacing existing wearers’ prescribed lenses with generics. Daysoft, a Scottish contact lens company, has been manufacturing and selling generic lenses for over ten years. Hubble is another. This start-up uses a third party manufacturer to make generic methafilcon A, hydrogel, 55 per cent water content lenses.

How can such lenses compare to the latest silicone hydrogels? Do they have similar Dk and performance? I think not!

By fitting the best, latest-generation daily disposables, you may prevent such generic substitution, as many patients will see/feel the difference if they switch.


JJV recently received FDA approval for a photochromic soft contact lens. Although Healio claims this to be a world-first photochromic contact lens, we have in fact had photochromic RGP lenses in the past: I fitted a few of them but found that due to the thin, small size of corneal RGP lenses, they did not go dark enough to be effective and were never really successful. I asked people ‘in the know’ and they assured me they could manufacture a soft lens that can pretty much go totally dark and block most light from entering the eye if needed.

The two-week Oasys lens, that incorporates ‘Transitions Light Intelligent Technology’ via a photochromic additive, filters visible light based on the amount of UV light exposure as well as filtering blue light and blocking most UV rays. It will be interesting to see how patients take to them… they could be a boon for patients in bright climes.