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HomemioptometryEnduring Human Connection

Enduring Human Connection

While technology will continue to deliver improvements in eye care services, patients will always demand human interaction.

Welcome to the second quarter of 2021 – I hope the world is moving fast enough for you.

One thing I have learnt from COVID has been exactly where the locus of power and influence lies in terms of government across Australia. I suspect that pre-COVID, many of us thought that the pinnacle of political power sat in Canberra, with the states basically taking what they were given and doing as directed.

technology is great and important, but you don’t form a relationship with a machine. People want and need people to talk to, empathise with and discuss things

Does anyone still hold that view?

COVID has made it abundantly clear that, despite assurances of ‘unity’, Australia is a Federation of six states and two territories – and even the territories have powers which I didn’t realise they possessed. This has taught a lot to many of us who interact with government – and primary among those learnings is that if you want to achieve something, you need to connect with your state government and work through and with them. Because at the end of the day, in most cases, they’ll make the key decisions.

In the optometric world, our state Association were recently involved in a careers panel with our first and third year students at University of New South Wales. We do this in collaboration with the university each year to give both optometry and vision science graduates an idea of what career options are waiting for them on graduation.

One very interesting question asked was about the role that optometrists play in other countries – was it similar to Australia?

The most interesting answer came from Tim Thurn of Essilor. Tim was describing how optometry is evolving, particularly across Europe, and making advances in countries where previously the practice of optometry, as we understand it, would have landed you in gaol. Tim also gave us a realisation of just how big the eye care gulf is world-wide. For example, he quoted that in India, there are about 1,500 ‘optometrists’ (who work in a similar capacity to optometrists in Australia) providing eye care services to a population of 1.5 billion. The scope for optometry to play a role in that nation’s growth and maturation is incalculable.

Another question asked of the careers panel was about the future prospects for optometry – would we all be replaced by robots in the relatively near future?

Now, on the panel were four people who are all very closely and practically involved in the development of highlevel technology and artificial intelligence within eye care – Ben Backus (Vivid Vision), Matthew Arnison (Bandicoot Imaging Sciences), Joe Tanner (CooperVision) and Tim Thurn (Essilor). All had their points of view and all agreed that technology has had – and will continue to have – major impacts on the way in which clinical practice evolves and how care is delivered. But it was Ben Backus who summed it up so well – paraphrasing – “technology is great and important, but you don’t form a relationship with a machine. People want and need people to talk to, empathise with and discuss things. In health care, technology is a tool, not a replacement.”

I hope that by the time you read this I’ll have had at least my first vaccine dose, which means I’m a step closer to a plane to Los Angeles to meet our granddaughter for the first time. For everyone who is feeling similarly disconnected, heads up – the end is in sight!

Andrew McKinnon is the Chief Executive Officer of Optometry NSW/ACT.