Innovative Optometry Students Utilize AI for Better Patient Care


Winners of the Student Innovator of the Year Award from the Rick Bay Foundation, Kathleen Hoang and Alex Martin presented on some medical innovations they are working on. The Student Innovator of the Year award recognizes the innovative and creative ideas of a current student at an optometry college.

Named after Rick Bay, former publisher and president of the Review of Optometry and Review of Ophthalmology, the Foundation’s Student Innovator of the Year award aims to support optometry’s next generation. Martin, from the New England College of Optometry was supported by a grant from VisionWeb, while Hoang from SUNY College of Optometry was supported by grants from Essilor of America and VSP.

Kathleen Hoang, a third-year OD student, presented her idea, track DM, a tool for diabetes management to improve health, educate on relevant updates in the field and engage users in a dynamic social community.

When patients are first diagnosed with diabetes, Hoang pointed out, they first think about all the things they have to keep track of—meals they can’t have, doctor’s appointments, blood glucose levels and increasing their activity—among other things.

Hoang said, “With so many things to keep track of, a lot of people fall into this vicious cycle in which they are not on top of all the things they need to manage. Diabetes has the ability to affect multiple systems in your body and it’s really important to realize that the bad things that happen due to diabetes are really bad if they are not kept under control. ”

After realizing that phones may also be used as “personal doctors,” Hoang did some research on the current diabetes app market. She found out that for the most part, there is no integration within the apps; there’d be one app for tracking blood glucose levels, another for activities and yet another for appointments.

In doing research, Hoang discovered the three major flaws within the current diabetes app market:

Not everyone is a diary person—meaning not everyone is good with journaling and tracking themselves on a daily basis.

The apps can be time consuming/confusing, especially for someone who is new.

The engagement level is low. Diabetes apps are like most apps that you download, use for a while and then forget about.

(L to R) Winners of the Student Innovator of the Year Award from the Rick Bay Foundation, Kathleen Hoang (l) and Alex Martin (r) with Jobson’s Marc Ferrara.
Hoang’s track DM aims to resolve all these flaws. The app features integrated push notifications and reminders to encourage users to stay on top of appointments and other things; makes tracking easier and automated by allowing users to Bluetooth link glucose monitors, fitness trackers and other devices; allows users to make their own profiles and engage with other diabetics within the community; and it helps patients stay updated with the latest information on the disease.

Martin, who’s a fourth-year OD student, presented Lengua Lista, a medical translator that uses artificial intelligence to allow English speaking doctors to communicate instantly with Spanish speaking patients.

Martin played a demonstration for the audience, showing how difficult a medical exam can be when the ECP and patient speak different languages. “The challenge is that people are not receiving eyecare or medical care of any kind due to language barriers. They are afraid to go to doctors, creating mistrust, disparities and lack of access to care,” Martin said.

One of the challenges Martin pointed out, is that up and coming ODs like himself have a hard time learning new languages. “We are all just trying to get through school at this point,” he stated. Because of language barriers, ECPs and patients end up using children as translators which leads to discrepancies and confusion because of the lack of vocabulary. Patients also resort to using phone translators, which take extra time and money and are not always accurate.

With minimum setup time, Lengua Lista uses artificial intelligence to allow ECPs and their patients to communicate in their native languages in real time. Because optometry exams follow a pattern, the device will be based on a library of past exams, so as the patient speaks, the computer will be predicting potential diagnoses, making the examination process go faster. Because of AI, Lengua Lista removes the need of having a translator and also auto populates an electronic medical record at the same time.

—Stephanie Sengwe