Most people would agree that our sense of sight is by far one of the most important of the five. Not only does it help you to navigate your surroundings, it also allows you to appreciate all the beautiful things the world has to offer. Vision problems are an expected part of aging. Most eye troubles are minor and eventually heal, but some are critical enough to cause serious damage to the eye or can lead to a permanent vision loss.
Moreover, eye diseases and conditions such as diabetic retinal disease and glaucoma show little or almost no symptoms until they are in a late stage, by which point treatment might not be successful with the condition. In order to spot eye diseases, one must be alert to changes in vision. Early detection is therefore is essential. It can to ensure timely help from a trained medical professional and delay or even reverse the progression of these eye diseases.
For example, Singapore has one of the highest rates of myopia in the world, with approximately 60% of children becoming myopic by 12 years of age, and that number increases to 80% by the time they reach 18. Early detection is important in order to manage symptoms of myopia and in some cases cure it at an early age through eye drops, corrective lenses, and glasses.
To this end, Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre, one of the top ophthalmology practices in Singapore, launched a mobile app on 11th October 2018 aimed at improving eye health education by allowing the public to easily access trusted eye health information and assess the health of their eyes with clinically-proven eye tests. These include tests for visual acuity, colour blindness, macular grid test, and a dry eye quiz. This is the first-of-its-kind in Singapore and is built through the expertise of Asia Retina founder, Dr Claudine Pang. We were fortunate enough to get an interview with Dr Pang, who shared with us the importance of education, regular eye testing and early detection.
Q: In your 15 years as an Ophthalmologist, what are some of the worst cases of eye disorders that you have seen?
The worst cases I’ve seen are due to traumatic eye injuries. I have seen an entire eye get pulled off from its socket after a car accident. I have also seen an eye go completely blind after being hit directly by a broomstick. Apart from injury, the other severe eye cases I’ve seen are due to poorly uncontrolled diabetes. This usually affects young people who are not aware of the severity of their diabetes and often suffer from irreversible blindness in both eyes from diabetic retinal detachments.
Q: Aside from the lack of education, what are some of the biggest barriers to early detection and treatment of eye diseases?
With currently advanced eye imaging technology, the majority of eye diseases can be detected earlier if patients had access to the most advanced imaging machines. The reality is that eye imaging equipment can be costly and not all eye clinics invest in such equipment. At Asia Retina, we have invested in the newest technology so that our patients have access to such equipment.
Q: Are all eye diseases curable?
Not all eye diseases are curable. Once eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy have progressed to the stage where vision is irreversibly damaged, no amount of treatment can regain the vision that has been lost. That is why it is so important to detect them early and start treatment to prevent further visual damage.
Q: What inspired the creation of Asia Retina mobile app? What are you hoping to achieve with this app?
After years of seeing patients, I have come to realise that not many people understand the importance of yearly eye exams or the role of their retina as the core of their vision. I wanted to raise awareness about the need for regular eye checks to detect early eye problems, especially retinal-related diseases which are often treatable in the early stage. I hope to be able to engage people with this easy-to-use app so that they may understand what eye care and retinal health are about and take a more active approach to their own eye health.
Q: Target audience? Young children as well?
The app is targeted at any age group – basically anyone who owns a smartphone. The self-assessment eye tests are easy and fun to use at any age. Young kids may use the app as well, under the supervision of their parents.
Q: Being a mother of two, how important is it to target the younger generation with this app?
I don’t usually encourage my children to use electronic devices of any kind outside of schoolwork. Although I do let them use the app under my supervision to test their eyesight. I believe children should grow up in a more natural environment where they learn to interact with people more than devices. So I would say, the app is meant to target parents of the younger generation who can then learn how best to take care of their children’s eye health.
Q: What can we expect from the app? What are some of the highlights of the app? How does it differ from existing apps on eye health education?
The app has 5 special features:
- Self-assessment eye tests evaluating visual acuity, colour vision, macular function and dry eye questionnaire.
- A personal profile page which stores personal eye medical records and eye images.
- Eyedrop reminder platform which allows phone reminders of prescribed eyedrops.
- Eye-related educational articles about improving eye health.
- Easy-to-use appointment booking and rescheduling system.
Q: What types of eye diseases does the app focus on? How much of information does it provide on these diseases?
The app provides information about all types of eye diseases including how to maintain eye wellness, dry eye problems, eyelid conditions, corneal infections, contact lens overwear, cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinal conditions and myopia. There are 2-3 new articles on various eye-related topics published each month.
Q: Does it cater to the individual’s needs? For example, will it generate targeted information for someone with myopia versus someone with cataracts?
No, the app does not aim to collect any information from users so that users are able to feel completely secure that their information and responses are truly private and confidential.
Q: Does it also tell you what sort of eye diseases you may be at risk of giving your family history, current risk factors or does it also give a recommended course of treatment?
No, it is not a predictive app and does not intend to take over the role of a formal eye consultation with the eye doctor. It merely provides eye health-related information to the user so that he/she is better equipped with knowledge and eye care tips.
Q: Generally speaking, most of us know what we should do to take care of our eyes, like take regular breaks if working on the computer for long hours, eye drops for dry eyes, etc. So how does this additional information on the app enhance what we already know?
The articles on the app may provide more detailed information on treatment options. For example, other forms of treatments for dry eyes other than eye drops, which users may not already know about. The app also serves as a quick self-screening tool so it may alert users to get an eye assessment if the self-assessment outcome is less than ideal.
Q: Does the app feature any games?
If you consider the self-assessment eye tests as ‘games’ then yes, these tests may be considered fun to ‘play with’ for a couple of minutes.
Q: Will the older generation find the app easy to use? Does it cater to non-English speakers?
Most of our patients who belong to the older generation are able to use the app without any problems. Translating the app to other languages is in the pipeline, although, many of our Chinese-speaking patients are also able to use the current English app without problems.
Q: Any plans for a desktop app or syncing it with existing eye-related apps, like Awareness and F.lux? Can the appointment diary on the app be synced with the user’s mobile calendar?
No, because we are dealing with our patient’s personal data so data security is of utmost importance to us.
Q: What does the future hold for Asia Retina, both the mobile app and the Eye Surgery Centre?
Asia Retina App and Eye Surgery Centre hopes to educate the public about eye wellness and in particular retinal health so that when someone sees the word ‘Retina’, they will know what it means and hopefully ‘Asia Retina’ will come to mind.
Q: Is the app catered only to Asia Retina patients? If so, are there plans to expand it to other Singaporeans as well, perhaps even the region?
It’s catered to the general public. Anyone with a smartphone can download the app for free from the Apple iTunes store and Google Playstore. Public users will be able to access the self-assessment eye tests, eye-related health articles and appointment booking system. Patients of Asia Retina will have the additional features of the personal profile of eye medical records and eyedrop reminder system.
The Asia Retina eye-care mobile app can be downloaded for free on Google Play for Android or in the Apple App Store for iOS devices.
For more information about the app, check out the informational video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wt2ZMFseB1s&feature=youtu.be.
If you liked this article, please support our book project “Building Body Confidence” by pledging an amount here. Every dollar goes into the publishing and distribution of the book and you will get a copy of it once it does get published!
Photo Credits: Asia Retina and Pixabay