Vision and eye health is undeniably vital to individual health. Visual incapacitates are debilitating not only for personal health but for economic opportunity as well.
Despite the importance of eye health, provision of visual health care is severely lacking in many developing countries. Much of the statistical data points to a link between poverty and vision impairment. Poverty has been shown to precipitate visual impairment, and such impairments can then cause loss of financial opportunity as well as expenditure on healthcare.
Visual healthcare is generally costly, and this leads to a lapse in treatment. An estimated 80 percent of blindness cases globally are preventable, given proper care. In the United States, the high costs of eye healthcare result in almost half of adults requiring these facilities to forego them. Putting off necessary eye exams for financial reasons hinders the early diagnosis of potential health concerns, as well as their timely treatment.
These issues of costly eye healthcare are relevant in places where visual health is accessible at all. In developing countries, access to an ophthalmologist or professional care can be fairly limited. On a global average, there are only 30 ophthalmologists per million people; in resource-poor countries, this number can be as low as one eye doctor per one million persons.
The efforts to seek a solution to this problem have unsurprisingly revolved around Internet and cellphone technology. With the advent of medical services offered through smartphone apps and webpages, smartphone technology is making an impact in the field of visual healthcare as well. Peek (Portable Eye Examination Kit) visions is one such smartphone app. Winner of the 2014 Digital Design award by the London Design Museum, the app features enhanced capabilities and features that make this app the next best thing to an eye doctor visit.
The app can diagnose a variety of common visual health concerns, from cataracts and glaucoma to retinopathy and nerve disease. The app uses the Peek Retina accessory, which goes over the built-in cellphone camera. The camera in the phone can then show the retina imaging when held over someone’s eye.
The retinal imaging can be stored and shared with a healthcare professional through the app’s database. Diagnosis and further information on the patient can also be stored in their database. The app also offers Peek SightSim, which is an innovative vision testing program. This eye test is like a vision test in an ophthalmologist’s office, but it doesn’t rely solely on recognition of English letters. The app can then show the doctor an adjusted image of how his patient can see, according to the test administered. The images can also be geotagged, to assist physician follow up.
Currently, one healthcare worker can assist 1,000 patients per week, as per clinical trials. The app is being further enhanced to make it even more affordable and accessible. The adapter for retinal imaging has been made quite small and portable. The current specifications allow for untrained people to assess certain visual ailments, including myopia and far-sightedness.
The Peek Vision team has started a campaign to fund further research and clinical trials to make the app more efficient. Donors can also choose to fund specific regions in desperate need of visual healthcare.
Additional refining of the app and the details of its usage is crucial for the success of the app; however, the very development of this app has brought us a step closer to combating preventable blindness globally.
– Atifah Safi