ODs prefer AI systems more as a supplementary tool following a retinal disease consultation rather than during it. Photo: Getty Images.

As technology continues to advance, artificial intelligence (AI)-based systems are moving closer to becoming standard clinical tools that can provide more accurate detection of various ocular diseases, especially those affecting the posterior segment. Recently, a survey was administered to several hundred optometrists in Australia to gauge how they felt about the prospect of eventually relying on AI to aid with retinal diagnosis. While most of the respondents reported having a positive attitude about AI’s future role in retinal disease detection, the majority suggested they would use AI as more of a second opinion rather than to obtain a diagnostic recommendation.

The eight-page, self-administered survey was mailed to 252 optometrists, 133 of whom responded. The survey included five sections with multiple choice (using a response scale of zero to five) and open-ended questions meant to assess general attitudes toward AI in retinal disease diagnosis and motivators and barriers for use of this technology down the line. 

Most respondents reported a positive attitude about using AI as a tool to aid in retinal disease diagnosis (mean score: four out of five). Most doctors said they would use AI if it was shown to increase access to healthcare (mean score: 4.4), which they noted to be one of the two most important benefits of AI, followed by its potential to produce more reliable diagnoses.

The responses revealed that optometrists showed a statistically significant preference for using AI as a supplementary tool following the consultation rather than using the system during it. Most clinicians also reported that there’s a strong need to validate AI technology through high-quality clinical trials and against a retinal specialist standard (mean score: 4.1).

Here are several other findings from the survey responses:

  • Optometrists largely agreed with the following statements: “In the future, I believe there will be an overall need for AI in primary eye care” (mean score: 3.8), and “In the future, I see myself using AI if such automated processes surpass human clinician involvement in clinical decision-making” (mean score: 3.7).

  • Optometrists felt neutral about the need to inform their patients on the use of AI in clinical practice (mean score: 3.4).

  • Optometrists who reported having more computerized systems in their offices were more likely to have positive attitudes towards using AI as a tool for retinal diagnosis.

Similar studies have also shown that doctors across various fields who rely on imaging technologies seem to have a positive attitude towards AI’s future in healthcare. Accepting and believing in the potential of these new systems will make it much easier for AI devices to be widely adopted into clinical practice when the time comes. 

Ho S, Doig GS, Ly A. Attitudes of optometrists towards artificial intelligence for the diagnosis of retinal disease: A cross-sectional mail-out survey. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. August 4, 2022. [Epub ahead of print].