A smartphone app is as effective at testing eyesight as an optician’s clinic, a trial suggests.
The team, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, hope it can transform eye care for millions of people in remote parts of the world.
Trials on 233 people in Kenya, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, showed the phone produces the same results as eye charts.
It is often easy to treat with something as simple as a pair of glasses or cataract surgery, but a lot of people are beyond the reach of even the basis eye exam.
The team in London, with colleagues from Scotland, modified a smartphone to develop a series of eye tests that could be used with little training and were easily portable.
The Portable Eye Examination Kit (Peek) uses the phone’s camera to scan the lens of the eye for cataracts.
Its ‘Acuity App’ uses a shrinking letter, which appears on screen, and is used as a basic vision test. It uses the camera’s flash to illuminate the back of the eye to check for disease.
The first clinical data from tests in Kenya show the vision test gives the same results as the rows of letters pinned to an optician’s wall. Their eyes were examined both in their homes and at an eye clinic.
Dr. Andrew Bastawrous, who led the project, said: ‘The main reason for most people not getting eye treatment is simply that they don’t access the services and that’s usually because the services are so far away from them or are unaffordable.
‘If we can detect people with visual impairment much earlier on then we have a much greater chance of increasing awareness and ensuring they have appropriate treatment.
The phone is relatively cheap, costing around £300 rather than using bulky eye examination equipment costing in excess of £100,000.
The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness believes the app could be a ‘game changer’.