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Charting Eye Examinations: From Papyrus to PC


By Reid A. Pettit, OD


To archaeologists, the three primary ages are the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and  the Iron Age.  I come from what could be called the Paper Age, an age which encompassed much of the Bronze and all of the Iron Age.  By deductive reasoning, therefore, I have been around long enough to be a fossil.

If you include papyrus, the Paper Age began a very long time ago, maybe five thousand years or more.  So, five thousand years ago, we optometrists up and down the Nile faced our patients with charts made of papyrus and recorded our examinations in hieroglyphics.  In instances of mortal concern, like when the patient had been bitten in the eye by a serpent, we might have looked to Osiris, the god of the underworld, for intervention and guidance.

None of us could possibly imagine a scenario like that these days.  I mean, really?  Instead of papyrus, we doctors now use computers to record their examinations.  In instances of mortal concern, like when the computer breaks down, we might look to Osiris, an IT company, for intervention and guidance.  Ummm….

Computers can cause problems even when they don’t break down.  A friend told me about an experience that he had recently in a doctor’s office.  Apparently, he was taken to an exam room and left alone to wait.  Before long, a technician walked in, crossed the room to a computer that faced the opposite wall, and started taking his case history.   According to my friend, the technician, without ever looking at him, did the entire interview with him seeing nothing but the technician’s backside.  That wouldn’t have happened in ancient Egypt (and shouldn’t happen now).  We healthcare providers need to remember where our focus should be.

As we all know, computers are here to stay.  Fortunately, this is mostly good news.   I can tell you that in my field in particular, innovative technology has led to incredible improvements in the way eye care is provided.  Computer guided lasers now break up cataracts, change the shape of corneas, fix retinal problems, treat glaucoma, remove bags from under the eyes, and much more.  Computers have allowed us to custom make eyeglass lenses that match your individual physical characteristics.  Computers have given us contact lens options that not long ago were unimagined.  Computers have linked doctors to other doctors to make it easier to coordinate your care.  Computers have….  It goes on and on.

It is a wondrous age.  And like all ages, it has its glitches.  Like most people, though, I wouldn’t want to go back to an earlier day in healthcare.  We are seeing better and living longer.  We’ve come a long way since Dr. Imhotep would tell me to take two figs and call him in the morning.  And that it wouldn’t hurt me if somewhere in the middle of each week I would give my camel a break and walk to work.  I picked Wednesday and the rest is history.