iPhone display quality might clear the way for remote eye care triage

Emergency departments without an ophthalmologist might soon use iPhones to send photos to an eye specialist for consultation.

Two specialists gave high marks for quality to inner-eye photos taken with an ocular camera that were transmitted to them via iPhones, according to a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology.

The quality of the photos opens up the potential to more quickly diagnose and plan treatment for more obvious eye conditions using mobile devices.

Doctors who don't specialize in eye care don't always feel comfortable treating doing eye exams. "So having tools in your pocket that enable you to do ophthalmologic examination elements are a great asset," Dr. Rohit Krishna, an ophthalmologist from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine told Reuters. 

The study from Emory University in Atlanta involved using an ocular camera to photograph the inner eye of 350 patients presenting symptoms of vision problems in the ER. Two ophthalmologists rated the quality of these images on a desktop computer and 100 of the images on an iPhone.

One ophthalmologist rated 53 of the photos as of the same quality, 46 rated better on an iPhone and one was better on the desktop. The other ophthalmologist rated 56 photos as equal, 42 better on the iPhone and two better on the desktop.

Dr. Charles Wykoff, an ophthalmologist from Retina Consultants of Houston, however, told Reuters he worries that an iPhone consultation might miss conditions that require an in-person exam.

The authors said they were not suggesting that an iPhone consultation could replace an in-person exam for subtle conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, but that the device might expedite treatment of more obvious ailments.

They said the next step will be determining whether triage and care can be provided faster and more accurately with iPhone consultations.

Other researchers have put smartphones to work in detecting bone factures, oral cancer and monitoring behavior for mental illness.Though there's debate about how many physician functions smartphones can take over, so far they tend to be used for fairly low-level tasks, such as monitoring blood sugar, checking weight and blood pressure, evaluating symptoms and diagnosing non-critical conditions.

To learn more:
- read the study
- here's the Reuters article