Eye patient Diane Jensen has probably scheduled dozens of eye exams with her smartphone. Now, she's about to use it to perform one.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought, 'Wow. This is really the next level of medicine and eye care,'" said Jensen.
Just like a normal visit to her ophthalmologist's office, Jensen begins with several tests, including reading a digital eye chart to identify where her vision drops off. Then, with the help of a colleague, she uses the phone's camera to snap high resolution images of each eye. Within minutes the images and the test results arrive at her doctor's office via email.
"You actually can see with incredible clarity the whites of the eye, I can detect corneal ulcers, you can detect all sorts of external diseases," said Palo Alto ophthalmologist Harvey Fishman, Ph.D.
Fishman is the developer of the application known as EyeSnapi. He says it's meant for patients who are experiencing difficulties, but can't make it into the doctor's office right away.
"This is a terrific way for [my patients] to communicate with me. Then, I get objective data where I can actually look at their eye, I can actually see the visual acuity, and see if they're having a visual field defect," said Fishman.
He cautions that the email information is always followed up with a phone conversation, but he says the data alone can be powerful in making a preliminary diagnosis. One test screens for visual field defects. That's a loss of vision in a specific area, with causes ranging from macular degeneration to a brain tumor.
"This is the visual field from another patient and the patient actually had a brain tumor... which I was able to confirm with this iPhone app," said Fishman.
He says the phone app, currently designed for the iPhone, is not meant to replace a traditional eye exam. However, Fishman envisions it someday being used to perform pre-exams to give eye doctors detailed information, perhaps hours or even days before a patient walks through the door.
"It's a little like in trauma cases where... the ambulance will be sending data to the emergency room. And this is sort of the same thing," said Fishman.
It takes several steps for patients to start the interface, but once the app is launched, patients are typically able to complete the test in a matter of minutes.
"If I can send pictures in without having to come into the office, I would absolutely be comfortable doing that," said Jensen.
The EyeSnapi is currently a free download.
Written and produced by Tim Didion