The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) has secured $750,000 of research funding to continue development of Vision@Home. The new technology will allow Australians, particularly those less mobile and living in remote locations, to test their eyesight without leaving their homes.
According to published research, approximately 600,000 Australians live with vision impairment and at least half of these cases were either preventable or treatable. Vision disorders were projected to have cost Australia between AU$11-12 billion in 2015.
As a top ten finalist in the 2016 Google Impact Challenge, CERA’s project ‘Vision at Home’ had already secured AU$250,000 for research. An additional AU$500,000 was awarded following a pitch presentation and judge selection on 26 October.
“Our project is a technology-driven and simple-to-use online solution for those who live far away from eye specialists,” said Professor Mingguang He, Principal Investigator at CERA and Professor of Ophthalmic Epidemiology at the University of Melbourne. “It has the potential to help millions of people not only in Australia but all around the world.”
Our project is a technology-driven and simple-to-use online solution…
Dr. William Yan, a medical practitioner and PhD candidate working with Professor Mingguang, presented the project to the judging panel, and explained the concept in further detail. “With 1 per cent of Australia’s eye specialists servicing the vast remote areas of the country, we have a large gap in the provision of eye services. We are strong believers that technology is a great short cut to bridge the health gap sooner in tandem with improved infrastructure.”
Dr. Yan said while most visual acuity testing systems required a clinician to be present to ensure an accurate reading, Vision@Home relied on feature recognition technology from a webcam.
“Vision at Home is an evidence-based software and algorithm that combines a webcam and internet to provide a method for patients to test their eyesight anywhere, instead of attending a clinic. The patient logs on to Vision@Home, then watches an instructional video. He or she holds an item such as a credit card over one eye, and the software calculates the distance between the other eye before conducting the VA test. An accurate, reliable reading is all about ensuring the accuracy of testing distances.”
Dr. Yan said a clinical trial of over 200 people had confirmed that Vision@Home prototype accuracy was agreeable with the ETTRS gold standard method of testing visual acuity. He said plans were in place to further develop Vision@Home to test for colour blindness and visual fields. However, there is no way Vision@Home will replace an optometrist. “Patients will always need eye specialists to counsel and support them, to dispense glasses and of course, to diagnose and manage other eye conditions,” said Dr. Yan.
With Google’s support he said the team at CERA was ready to fast track Vision@Home. “The Google Impact Challenge award is an outstanding show of goodwill, trust and confidence in our project from one of the biggest organisations in the world. As well as significant funding it’s great to know we have access to Google’s network, an enormous suite of analytics software and one of the largest databases in the world that can be used to scale the technology,” said Dr. Yan.
He said the next step for Vision@Home was to run a large qualitative study to gain insights that will make the system more engaging, especially for elderly patients. “Next we will conduct a series of real world studies in community, working with mobility-impaired people, with post-operative patients at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and with indigenous schools. The third stage is the scaling process – we will run a public health campaign to attract individual users through media and social media, targeting clinics, hospitals, schools.”
He said CERA had already received enquiries from indigenous schools that were interested in implementing the eye-testing program. He said patients that participated in Vision@Home screening and required vision correction would be referred on to their nearest eye service or clinic. In the case of patients living in remote Australia, Vision@Home was likely to refer patients on to specialists via telehealth.