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Smartphone display could improve eye diagnoses

Researchers find that ophthalmologists consistently rate inner-eye photos viewed on iPhones as higher quality than those viewed on desktop computers.

A medical image viewed on a 19-inch LCD (top) and on an iPhone 3G (middle), alongside screenshots taken from the iPhone while displaying the photograph at the actual size and resolution of the screen (bottom left) compared with one taken from the iPhone while displaying the photograph zoomed in (bottom right).
Archives of Ophthalmology

Smartphones could soon be used not only to view complex inner-eye photos for diagnoses, but also to take, send, and view pictures of damage to the front of the eye or to eyelids, according to a new study out of Emory University.

Smartphones may even make passe those annual eye doctor visits if their imaging is good enough for diagnosing and planning treatment for a range of eye conditions -- good news for those who, like myself, prefer to perform as many chores as possible (think shopping) from the comfort of my home.

The researchers at Emory collected data on 350 patients who reported headaches, changes in eyesight, and other vision issues in emergency rooms. This included inner-eye photos taken by ER staff using an ocular camera.

They then had two ophthalmologists view and rate the photo quality on a desktop computer, and ultimately view and rate 100 of the shots on an iPhone as well.

As reported this week in the Archives of Ophthalmology, both doctors rated the iPhone images as good as or better than the desktop ones by a wide margin -- one said 53 were of the same quality, 46 were better on the iPhone, and one was better on the computer, while the other said 56 were equal, 42 better on the iPhone, and 2 better on the computer.

Next, according to Emory researcher Valerie Biousse, the team hopes to find whether smartphones can expedite and improve acute patient care and ophthalmologic consultations by allowing staff to send photos from the ER to an ophthalmologist's smartphone.

Charles Wykoff, an ophthalmologist from Retina Consultants in Houston who was not involved in the research, tells Reuters Health that he doesn't think smartphones will replace the need for complete eye exams: "The concern for me is possibly false reassurance when there's a normal picture."

Still, he adds, he's all for adding smartphones to the toolbox if doing so helps ER patients get speedier and accurate diagnoses.