Stanford University Researchers Build Cheap, Smartphone-Powered Ophthalmology Camera

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Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine create a new ophthalmology camera that uses a smartphone to take a picture of the front and back of the eye as accurately as standard ophthalmological equipment. The device is made of cheap and readily available materials, and relies on the camera and light from a smartphone to operate. The device is described in a paper published in the Journal of Mobile Technology in Medicine.

Traditional ophthalmology equipment costs tens of thousands of dollars and requires extensive training to use, so in primary care and emergency department settings physicians typically do not have access to this technology. Thus, when a patient arrives in the ED with an eye injury, clinicians have no choice but to describe or draw the injury when the ideal documentation would include a high-quality image.

“With smartphone cameras now everywhere, and a small, inexpensive attachment that helps the ancillary health-care staff to take a picture needed for an eye consultation, we should be able to lower the barrier to tele-ophthalmology.” – Robert Chang, MD, Senior Researcher at Stanford University

The approach Stanford researchers have taken resolves a number of these problems. First, the device is cheap, so cheap that researchers are hoping it will not only become a staple in EDs and primary care offices, but that it will go so far as to boost access to tele-ophthalmology for many remote regions of the world. Second, the device is easy to use. An app walks the user through the process of lining up a shot and taking the picture so that high-quality images can be taken by a minimally-trained clinician, rather than a technician in an ophthalmologists office. Finally, pictures taken with the smartphone are more accessible, and can be added to most electronic health record systems without requiring an interface between an ophthalmology imaging system.

Hundreds of iterations of the device were tested during the development process, and during that time, a students amateur 3D printer was being used to create the devices. Near the end of the development process, researchers move to the Stanford Product Realization Lab where they had access to printers that could generate more precise final products. The device is now being tested in Stanford’s ED where one group of researchers are validating the quality of the images being captured when photographing injuries, while another group is testing the devices ability to pick up on subtle changes that occur in long-term degenerative eye diseases.


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