Indian eye hospital uses iPhone for remote diagnostics

The technology will enable doctors to reach more patients in villages, says the hospital

An Indian eye hospital is piloting software that will push to doctors' iPhones retinal images collected from patients in remote locations.

Doctors can then quickly send their diagnosis and recommendations from their iPhones, said Anand Vinekar, project coordinator and pediatric retinal surgeon at the Narayana Nethralaya Postgraduate Institute of Ophthalmology in Bangalore.

Doctors are more likely to have access at all times to their mobile phones than their laptop computers, Vinekar said.

The hospital plans to use the technology to test infants for a potentially blinding condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), besides other conditions such as ocular cancers.

ROP requires treatment after diagnosis within 48 to 72 hours to prevent blindness, Vinekar said. The problem in India is that the country has about 15 to 20 doctors trained to diagnose and treat patients with ROP, and they are located in the cities, Vinekar said.

As part of its village outreach program in rural areas, two years ago the hospital started sending qualified doctors to villages and equipped them with instruments used to examine the eye.

To improve its reach in rural and semi-urban areas, the hospital trained people to take eye images using a wide-angle retinal digital camera, with 130 degrees field of view. These people, who were not doctors or technicians, were also trained to make a preliminary diagnosis, Vinekar said.

Once the hospital started using images for a diagnosis, the doctors did not have to go to the rural locations every time for diagnosis, he added.

Images were transferred from the camera to a computer, and then the images were e-mailed to the doctor in Bangalore for final diagnosis and recommendations. Some months ago, the hospital installed a system that allowed the images to be uploaded to a server using the Internet, and a doctor could access the images from a computer.

Under the new system, images from the computer are uploaded to a server using the Internet, and the software then pushes the images to the doctor's iPhone.

Doctors from other hospitals in other locations can also download the application to their iPhones, and collaborate in the diagnosis, said Sham Banerji, CEO of i2i TeleSolutions, the company that developed the software, and also hosts the application and the images.

Doctors can give their diagnosis, and send their reports from their mobile phones to the server, and from there on through the Internet to the persons at the patient's site.

The hospital selected the iPhone for its graphics capability and screen resolution, Vinekar said. The iPhone also offers features such as the ability to enlarge images, he added.

The ability to create PDF reports on the iPhone also helps doctors to create diagnostic reports and upload them on the Internet, Vinekar said.

The software has been submitted by i2i of Singapore for inclusion by Apple in its App Store, Banerji said. Having the software listed on the store will help the company market the software to more hospitals, he added.

The software can also be ported to other mobile phones, and the company may also look at phones using the Android mobile operating system, Banerji added.

Vinekar meanwhile hopes to down the line use a mobile phone and the mobile telephone network for collecting images at the patients' end, and transmit them in real-time to the back-end servers and the doctors' iPhones. But first the phones will have to support quality cameras with 130 degrees field of view, he added.

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