Talking Tech: Two Takes on Health and Vision Trends
April 25, 2022
By Sarah McGoldrick, Originally posted on Vision Monday
NEW YORK—Big Tech companies are increasingly intersecting with the optical industry. Prescription-ready, wearable tech such as Amazon’s Echo Frames, which offer high quality audio and is Alexa-controllable, and Ray-Ban Stories—a collaboration between Meta and EssilorLuxottica that features audio and video capabilities—are gaining popularity with consumers. Apple is developing its own eyeglass wearable which, according to patents, may have augmented reality (AR) capabilities. Google, which acquired smart glass maker North several years ago, may field its own version of AR technology.
To better understand how these tech giants are using consumer wearables as a component of their broader health care strategies, VM invited Ruth Reader, a Fast Company reporter specializing in health and tech, to share her insights with Summit attendees. In a wide-ranging conversation with VM’s Andrew Karp that was part of a session titled, “Talking Tech… Two Takes on Health & Vision Trends,” Reader offered her thoughts on Big Tech’s approach to health and vision.
“All the companies are making interesting moves,” she said. She cited Amazon Care, a hybrid program that offers virtual and in-person consumer health services and Amazon Web Services, which delivers cloud computing services to many health care business, as being indicative of the multi-pronged approach being taken by Amazon and other Big Tech players.
Consumer wearables for health and wellness offering everything from digital heart monitoring to insulin monitoring continue to grow in popularity, Reader said. However, the accuracy of these tools is still not 100 percent in the eyes of the medical industry. Innovation and research continues to ensure that these products provide the best and most accurate information for medical professionals. This is something Reader believes could take time.
“It’s too early to talk about success because they are all long-term players,” she said. “We are going to have to see what is helpful to the patient and the doctor and what will change consumer health behavior.
Paralleling the growth in consumer wearables is medical technology that allows health care providers to remotely monitor patients. Reader believes the line between the two is blurring, particularly as consumers acquires devices that let them accurately take certain biometric measurements that can then be shared with providers during a telehealth exam.
However, she cautioned that more needs to be done to ensure that the technology doesn’t “interfere with doctors doing their job.” With countless projects in the works from tech companies across the globe, she said one of the most important issues that needs to be considered is accessibility.
One of the biggest changes she is seeing in the industry is “apps as medicine” and the role they are playing in therapeutics and health care monitoring. She said it is easy for companies to develop apps that tackle smaller issues and make them free, creating a significant difference in access to care.
“Many of the early projects are trying to improve access and look at how tech can increase access to health care,” she said. “The blending of biology and technology is such a cool territory that has the profound ability to change lives.”
The role of technology in health care was explored further with Calvin Roberts, MD, CEO of Lighthouse Guild, one of the leading organizations that provides services to blind or vision-impaired people. The prevalence of vision loss in society today is one of the driving factors behind his research and commitment to finding solutions for people suffering from vision impairment. “For every person who is legally blind there are seven who are visually impaired,” said Dr. Roberts.
Technology innovators have begun to take note, creating new and more advanced products that make navigating the world easier for people with vision health issues.
“What’s happened in the last two years is the marrying between AI and technology,” Dr. Roberts observed.” He believes this will be the way people with vision loss navigate the world in the future. OrCam technology, which uses AI to read road signs and help the visually impaired get from point A to point B has already been adopted by major cities in the U.S. The technology also helps people read documents and recognize faces. Roberts strongly believes AI is a step in the right direction for giving people with vision loss the ability to see the world again.
“It’s not the eyes that see, but your brain that sees,” he said, noting that the same technology that is being used on self-driving cars can be applied to vision aid tools. “All the effort being put into autonomous driving could be repositioned to help people who are blind or visually impaired.”