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  • Could iPhones Become EyePhones?

    Published Nov. 13, 2014

    Smartphones, both iPhones and Androids, are getting smarter all the time. In fact, some research studies indicate that doctors are using smartphones for some tasks in their practice. Although smartphones may not be the best option for every patient or location, it could be a good alternative to traditional equipment in remote or underserved communities. In one study, an iPhone® was used to examine people with diabetes and photograph the inside of the eye to assess for diabetic retinopathy.

    The traditional method for monitoring the progression of diabetic retinopathy is through something called retinal slit-lamp biomicroscopy, which enables ophthalmologists to look at the back of the eye's interior. This kind of examination requires a large piece of specialized equipment found only in clinical settings, posing a significant challenge for monitoring patients living in rural or low-resource communities.

    To address this challenge, an Italy-based research group developed a small optical adapter called D-Eye that could attach magnetically to an iPhone 5, creating a smartphone ophthalmoscope. They used this device, as well as the traditional method, to perform dilated retinal digital imaging on 120 patients with diabetes who were having a routine eye exam to look for diabetic retinopathy.

    When they compared the results of the smartphone method to the traditional one, they found the results were exactly the same in 85 percent of the eyes, and near-exact (within one step in measuring the grade of disease progression) in 96.7 percent of the eyes. In most of the cases where the results did not match between smartphone and traditional method, the traditional method found the disease to be more advanced.

    In the smartphone results, nine eyes were not gradable due to the eye's pupil size or having a cataract. In the results from the traditional method, the number of not gradable images was four. Therefore, while the traditional method is still found to be the more accurate method for grading diabetic retinopathy, researchers believe smartphone ophthalmoscopy shows great potential for use in rural or remote communities who would normally receive little to no testing at all.