Vision screening app boosts assessment efforts for pediatricians

A new smartphone app aims to help make pediatric vision photo screening a more effective diagnostic approach for identifying potential risk factors tied to vision loss long before a child's vision impairment is typically noticed.

The GoCheck Kids app screens a young child's eyesight using high-resolution photography via a smartphone and assesses vision for refractive risk factors for amblyopia, the most common cause of visual impairment among children. Early detection can avoid potential vision loss and, if discovered by age 7, can stop amblyopia from becoming a permanent health issue.

Current vision tests require a verbal cue assessment process, which makes diagnosis in children often impractical, especially for those ages 6 months to 6 years. The app has been in pilot mode since January at Mia Bella Pediatrics in Orange County, California, and pediatrician Suzy McNulty (pictured) told FierceMobileHealthcare her young patients are embracing the technology.

"Children don't seem to mind the screening as they are very familiar with having their picture taken with a phone," McNulty said in an exclusive interview. She said that her staff needed about 15 minutes to learn how to use the app. "There is a learning curve of a day or so to get learn how to better pictures, similar to when you buy a new camera," she said.

The biggest--and most pleasant--surprise during the pilot, according to McNulty, has been usability.

"We were surprised with how easy it was to use," she said. "It is often a challenge to get the 3-year-olds and even some of the more shy or stubborn 4-year-olds to cooperate with the eye chart. The app has eliminated this problem and changed the way we are able to utilize vision screening."

Smartphones and mobile devices, such as tablets, are fast becoming medical tools, being used for everything from glucose monitoring to fostering better communications with young patients.

As FierceMobileHealthcare reported last week, one such app is promising to provide a better respiratory rate measurement approach for young children. And a pediatric psychologist at Children's National Health System in the District of Columbia is tapping mobile gaming on an iPad to engage families and young patients in conversations about how they're managing illness. 

The GoCheck Kids app is still in pilot mode with full national deployment scheduled for this fall.

McNulty says she hopes to see one improvement to the app down the road.

"We would love to be able to better follow our referrals to the ophthalmologist," she said. "An app that connects us would be very beneficial."