Imagine a rural screening center that has a technician taking snapshots of retinas and then uploading those pictures to a server that allows them to be viewed through an iPhone App for ophthalmologists to see.  The ophthalmologist can comment on the picture, diagnose, and then formulate a plan if follow up treatment is necessary.

This is a project that is about to be piloted in India by the Narayana Nethralaya Postgraduate Institute of Ophthalmology in partnership with i2iTelesolution.

CMN Correspondent has a great write up about this story.  The Ophthalmology Institute I mentioned above has had an outreach program similar to this for years, where they screen babies for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) and other conditions.  They currently have a system in place where technicians can take pictures of patients retinas and then send them to health care professionals via a system similar to e-mail.  It’s hard to find an ophthalmologist to come to rural areas and when they do come, patients have to wait in long lines, and they are wholly dependent on the doctors schedule.

This program has helped alleviate the huge dependence on visits by medical professionals.  But now the Ophthalmology Institute wants to bring this technique to the iPhone and is pairing up with i2iTelesolution to accomplish this goal.  The project coordinator, Dr. Anand Vinekar, a Pediatric retinal surgeon gives the following reason in the CMN article:

He further said that since they began ROP screen program two years ago in seven districts of Karnataka, they have successfully treated over 150 infants and screened over 1500, but they were sending data and images via the ‘store and forward’ technology (like emails) that was slow and did not solve security and storage issues. And he thinks this new application would help fasten and simplify the process.

The solution, dubbed ‘CARE TeleOphthalmology software’, is being implemented on a pilot basis and will run for 36 months at which time TeleROP is expected to be deployed on a much broader scale across the country and soon in other countries linking them in this unique way, Banerji hoped.

It’s commonly known that in less developed countries mobile technology is used in more innovative ways because it helps circumvent infrastructure issues that can be present.  An example of this is with banking.  In the US, many people don’t see the utility of using their phone for banking, yet in developing countries banking through mobile devices is almost a necessity.

I wonder if a prevention program utilizing similar techniques could work here in the US?  I could see something similar to this being used in free health care clinics, where ophthalmologists are not seen often, and harder to find.  From my experiences of volunteering in free health clinics, we usually had specialists such as ophthalmologists volunteer once a week or once every two weeks.  When they did come, they had a massive amount of patients to see.  If an ophthalmologist had an app such as this, he could quickly diagnose on the fly, and possibly help alleviate some of these backlogs and give more patients access to care.

Either way, this is definitely an exciting use of mobile medical technology.