A group of Mexican researchers are trying to improve early detection of eye disease using mobile technology. This could be highly useful as an aid to diagnosis in developing countries.

Self-Diagnosis: Smartphone Stands in for the Ophthalmologist

A ring to detect sexually transmitted diseases, an armband to signal a rise in body temperature, a sensor on your smartphone to diagnose ear infections…connected device tools enabling people to diagnose their own conditions are becoming increasingly widespread. Now a team of Mexican researchers has designed a mobile app to enable early detection of eye disease. The app is the fruit of collaboration between the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM), and the Medical and Surgical Center for Retina, both in Mexico. You can use the app to take a photo of the patient’s eye in order to spot potential problems.

Early detection of eye conditions

The software uses a set of algorithms to detect any hidden pathological condition in the patient’s eye. The process is unable to assess a person’s vision with any great precision. It can however reveal the presence of oedema, lesions on the retina and some vision defects before they become too serious. "We start out from the fact that it is much cheaper to prevent than to cure blindness," explains Dr Juan Carlos Altamirano Vallejo, Medical Director at the Medical and Surgical Center for Retina and one of the project leaders, in a press release ahead of the forthcoming market launch of the app.

Le smartphone devient ophtalmologue
                                             Smartphone can speed up diagnosis


Making eye diagnosis available to the masses?

The main advantage of the app is that it is low-cost and works fast. The software is easy to install and works instantaneously, which means that people living in rural areas and/or regions that lack medical equipment can readily obtain a diagnosis of their condition. Up to now this has been a real problem in a number of areas in Mexico, including where the researchers come from.  However, there is no intention of trying to replace medical specialists. "The idea is to detect and prevent diseases in general practice. We’re not replacing the specialist, we want to know which patients have a disease and make an early detection," underlines Dr Altamirano Vallejo. The emphasis is therefore on helping doctors to provide preventative care, rather than on patients using the app themselves. This desire to help doctors in their work echoes the results of a Harvard University study which revealed that self-diagnosis tools are most useful for helping to decide whether to go and consult a doctor.

By Guillaume Scifo