October 01, 2013 11:00 AM

The “bionic eye” has arrived and soon will be covered by Medicare.

The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System is the first device ever approved to restore functional vision in the legally blind. It has been approved for reimbursement under Medicare, according to the device’s developer, Second Sight Medical Products of Sylmar, Calif. With the new retinal prosthesis already receiving widespread media coverage, optometrists will be prepared to answer patient questions and refer patients for implantation when appropriate, according to the America Optometric Association’s Vision Rehabilitation Section.

How the Argus II works

The Argus II sends a signal from a small camera, mounted in the patient’s eyeglasses, to the patient’s retina, thereby restoring some sight, according to the manufacturer. It will be used initially for patients with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment and often blindness.

This first-of-its-kind retinal prosthesis was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier in 2013, under a humanitarian device exemption designed to speed introduction into the U.S. market. The device had already been approved in the European Union. Medicare will begin covering the devices as of today.

An optometrist will have an important role to play in providing pre- and post-assessments for these prosthesis patients. In addition, vision rehabilitation practitioners will play a crucial role in helping patients adapt to the implant, according to the American Optometric Association’s Vision Rehabilitation Section (AOA, VRS). The implant does not provide normal vision but rather sends signals that patients eventually learn to interpret, according to the manufacturer.

Dr. Bhavani Iyer, O.D., AOA VRS Council member, is the director of the new Center for Visual Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, Dr. Iyer will be providing care for retinal implant patients in the Houston area.

“I am told it will provide light perception and projection-like vision,” Dr. Iyer said. He expects vision rehabilitation practitioners to do blind rehab, basic activities of daily living skills training, orientation and mobility training, among other tasks.

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