LOOK AHEAD: Apps & Eye Care

SriniVas Sadda, MD

Director, Artificial Intelligence
Professor of Ophthalmology, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

Doheny Eye Institute innovates alongside tech companies in a way that might be surprising to some. We identify gaps in care, and then collaborate with engineers on ideas for research, development and design for improved ophthalmologic treatment. Often, we are deeply involved from the earliest stages of device development and prototyping. We’ve worked closely with medical device imagineers for decades. Recently, these collaborations have become even more interesting, as technology is increasingly available to our patients, in their pockets, and in ways that streamline medical procedures and expenses.

The biosensors and health apps on our phones developed by Apple, Google and other pioneers really only point the way to the enormous potential of enhanced self-care through technology.  Today, we  mostly  use these apps on our smart phones to measure fitness, by tracking steps and calories. But biosensors can also measure blood pressure, body chemistry and much more.

I’m looking forward to patients using their phones to take a picture of their own eye—even their own retina—and then sending that image along to our Image Reading Center. This kind of self-monitoring can be a huge efficiency boost, saving significant time and money in both diagnosis and treatment. When patients can regularly gather and share images from home—or from any location—for doctors to read within minutes, quality care will be greatly accelerated. No need to schedule an appointment and drive to our facility.  It is thrilling to me that for retinal disease patients, a tool as widely accessible as a cellphone’s camera and data sharing capacity can so significantly translate into improved eye health.

I believe elderly patients who need to come in for wet macular degeneration treatments or diabetic retinopathy could also benefit hugely from this kind of home monitoring approach.

Continued advances in technology also mean glaucoma patients can look forward to the benefits of frequent home monitoring of eye pressure. For example, doctors know that glaucoma patients sometimes come for an eye exam and everything looks fine. The doctor may suspect there has been a spike in pressure at some point—but there’s no evidence. In such cases, the ability to measure the pressure with continuous data would be very useful.  By using sensors at home, automated analysis of the data can determine which readings require immediate medical attention. Less urgently, the ability to send alerts to the patient based on data gathered at home can certainly have a dramatic effect on enhanced eye care in the not-too-distant future.

For our aging population and growing number of patients with eye problems, I find these digital developments incredibly exciting. I welcome the rapidly expanding range of biosensor technologies that will soon make more efficient diagnosis and treatment surprisingly routine.


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