Hacking the Eye Exam: SUNY Optometry Rethinks the Traditional Using an Innovative Technique


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From the proliferation of smartphones to the rise of virtual reality, technology has changed our lives in countless numbers of ways. Dr. Thomas Wong, director of new technologies at SUNY Optometry, is using another technique of our modern age—hacking—to get members of the community to think about how to reshape the traditional eye exam and both improve patient outcomes and provide better training for students along the way.

Dr. Wong organized and hosted SUNY Optometry’s first-ever hackathon at the College on May 6 and the ideas and energy were flowing freely. “The goal of this event was to use the questions ‘why’ and ‘how’ as starting points for rethinking the traditional eye exam,” he said. “Obviously there have been so many changes in technology and in health care in recent years but the fundamentals of the eye exam have remained relatively constant. We should always be looking to make improvements.”

Fifty participants, including faculty, alumni, residents, students and corporate partners, were split up into six different teams and given four hours to break down and rebuild the eye exam from scratch. The teams then had five minutes to present their completed ideas to a panel of judges that included SUNY Optometry faculty and industry experts. The judges evaluated each presentation based on creativity, design, prototype, potential for implementation and overall presentation.

While two teams were chosen as “winners” of the hackathon, the goal, Dr. Wong said, was much more about the process. “Hacking is a common tool used by many industries today, including health care” he said. “It’s important that the optometric community use the same critical-thinking process to ensure that the way that we practice, teach and utilize technology are at the highest levels possible.”

Other educational institutions use hacking to help develop innovative solutions as well. Most notably, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosts a series of popular healthcare-related hackathons as part of its wide-ranging “MIT Hacking Medicine” series.

But the process won’t end after SUNY Optometry’s inaugural hackathon. Dr. Wong plans to work with the winning teams and incubate their ideas as part of his new technology unit.

“The hackathon was really just the beginning of the process,” he said. “It’s an important first step in getting us to think about things differently.  It was an opportunity for us to build community here at SUNY Optometry, allowing students, researchers, faculty, residents, and alums to collaborate on a single goal: creating a better eye exam.  Hopefully, everyone had a little fun also!”

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