Skip to comments.When Smartphones Do a Doctor’s Job: A simple, cheap way to measure eyesight may face resistance.
Posted on 10/03/2013 7:02:59 PM PDT by neverdem
Eye app: A smartphone displays a measurement of the refractive error of a persons eyes.
Vitor Pamplona isnt a doctor. Hes not even an optician. He cant write you a prescription for glasses, or sell you a pair. Still, hes pretty sure hes going to disrupt the $75 billion global eye-care market.
At EyeNetra, the startup he cofounded, goofy curiosities like plastic eyeballs line the shelves, and a 3-D printing machine whirs in the background. Its printing out prototypes of a device that will attach to your smartphone and, in a minute or two, tell you what kind of eyeglasses you need.
The device, called the Netra-G, is based on some clever optics and software Pamplona came up witha way to measure the refractive error of the eye using a smartphone screen and an inexpensive pair of plastic binoculars. The whole setup might cost a few dollars to make. It does the job of a $5,000 instrument called an autorefractor.
More important, just about anyone could use it. Thats where the disruption comes inand the trouble. Right now, only doctors or optometrists can prescribe glasses or contact lenses. Pamplona, a brash Brazilian programmer who arrived in the U.S. a few years ago, thinks that wont always be the case. Were changing medicine by providing the user the right to measure themselves, he says. We see doctors as more of a coach.
Mobile phones are giving rise to a new class of clip-on diagnostic devices that could challenge doctors monopoly on diagnosing disease, not just errors in vision. Since doctors fees account for over 20 percent of U.S. health-care spendingand fully 3 percent of the countrys GDP on their ownsuch devices could potentially slash costs as well.
EyeNetra has received more than $2 million in financing from the outspoken Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla, who last year antagonized doctors by calling what they do witchcraft and predicting that 80 percent of their work diagnosing and prescribing could be done by machines.
Khoslas investment fund is also backing several other similar ventures, including AliveCor (see Your Heartbeat on an iPhone), which sells a heart monitor that attaches to an iPhone, and Cellscope, a company developing a phone camera that could let parents diagnose a childs ear infection (see Parents Could Skip the Doctors Office with This Device.)
Pamplona invented the Netra while studying in an MIT lab specializing in computational photography. That technology uses computers to bend the limits of traditional photographyits led to cameras that that see around corners or that can focus at every distance, all at once (see Light-Field Photography).
The prototype device he developed to measure how well your eye focuses light consists of a viewer that a user places against a smartphone screen. Spinning a dial yourself, you align green and red lines. From the difference between what you see and the actual location of the lines, an app calculates the focusing error of your eyes. Its like a thermometer for vision.
Using the device, a person might figure out his or her prescription and then, from the very same app, order glasses from an online store like Warby Parker. The price of an eye exam and a new prescription can run from $50 to $150. Optometrists also make money selling glasses.
After running into Pamplona at a conference last year, Dominick Maino, an optometrist based in Chicago, wrote a column in his industrys newsletter telling colleagues it was time to panic just a little.
Maino thinks Netra can give a good prescription, most of the time. But an optometristthere are 40,000 in the U.S.looks at your eye health overall and can deal with complex cases. He wants to put much more power into the hands of the individual, which isnt a bad thing, Maino says of Pamplona. But you cant write the doctor out of the equation. Theres a lot more to a great pair of glasses than an objective measure of refraction.
Euan Thomson, a partner at Khosla Ventures, says of all the challenges mobile-health companies must face, the most difficult is going to be that act of diagnosis by the doc. In the U.S., doctors usually dont get paid unless they see a patient. Payments are all based on patient visits, he says. Yet much of mobile health is around avoiding the need for patients to go in to the doctor.
Because of such obstacles, Khoslas firm has been advising its companies not to shoot directly for U.S. consumers, at least at first, and instead to work closely with doctors. EyeNetra, based outside Boston, has been testing its device in India, where it may prove easier to find a market. In India, about 133 million people are blind or cant see well because they dont have access to eye exams or glasses. Whats more, optometry isnt regulated as heavily there as it is in the U.S.
However, Thomson says all Khoslas mobile diagnostics companies, including EyeNetra and AliveCor, will eventually need to reach consumers directly, because that would give them access to millions or billions of electrocardiograms or glasses prescriptions. That could open new avenues for both medicine and marketing.
Whats at the center of all this is the information, not the device, says Thomson. The debate will be over who gets to interpret that information.
I get my eyes checked at the ophthalmologist every few years, but Japan, fortunately, never climbed on the doctor’s only bandwagon as far as eyewear is concerned. Any shop that sells glasses has a setup to check your vision and they’ll do it free. From start to finish, eye exam included, a new pair of glasses is a two hour (at most) experience.
Proper eye exams by a trained professional catches a lot of
issues besides myopia. Glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and
a lot of other vision threatening conditions exist that DIY
amateurs will miss.
Hmmm...I dunno. I remember there was once a man named Navin R. Johnson who also promised a breakthrough in optometry...
But how much are the glasses? How do they compare with say Costco. (Costco does eye exams for around $50)
I first heard that characterization almost 13 years ago, at the Free Republic March for Justice near the Washington Monument, Oct 31, 1998. The speaker was Joyce Smith, a black woman from Houston. She was a "community organizer" of the good kind.
About the same. Anywhere from that much, all the way up. The lenses are pretty cheap, it’s the frames you pay out the nose for.
Actually, the lenses can get really pricey too, depending on what you buy. They have all kinds of weird ones, unbreakable, UV resistant, for computers, for driving, onward and upward...
My last pair of glasses was 8,000 yen, including the eye exam. But like I said, you can go in, get a free exam, take the results, go to another shop, buy the glasses there, and nobody cares. All eye glass shops give free exams, so it’s no skin of their nose.
Doesn’t Apple have an iPhone attachment that can replace your tired wornout eyes with ieyes?
And what if that’s not what we want? What if all you want is A PAIR OF GLASSES without a “trained professional” snooping in your business and potentially putting labels on your record that’ll buy you a one way rail trip?
People that voted for Obama (twice)shouldn’t be playing optometrist.
They’re your eyes....you only get one pair.
Ignore them at your own risk. I’m a firm believer
in people being allowed to self destruct in any
fashion they choose. Just don’t bitch and whine when
your eyesite fails.
Well, here’s the thing. I need glasses...really could use em. It would help protect that most vaunted of groups, “other people”.
But, trying to find something like the Japanese arrangement mentioned above simply can’t happen in America. Thus, I go without, because I refuse to be nagged by a smug horse’s ass in a white coat over my size, my heart rate, my blood pressure, and everything else he can find to badger me about.
With Obunglescare a reality, do you REALLY think a doctor as eager to pin a diagnosis on you to confirm your lack of value to the regime as any crooked mechanic is to find the slightest squeak or scuff he can slap you with a giant bill for fixing is your friend? Your ally? Someone who wants to help you, has your best interests at heart?
The guy who’ll do a measurement and say “This is what you need, it’ll cost you X, and we could check you for Y but it’s optional and costs Z.” is. Pity we don’t have any of those.
I plan to live good and die young. Bammy’s taking even that.
now THATS affordable health insurance
I bet not. Those tests could all be automated. The legal monopoly on medicine needs to be broken. Let the market decide.
Damn...... you’re missing out on what America can do for you.