Simple Smartphone Add-On Targets Preventable Blindness

Diagnosing treatable vision problems could become as easy as taking a selfie
close-up of a human eyeball and hazel-brown iris

Michelle M. F. via Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0

As someone with a high risk of glaucoma, I end up going to the eye doctor’s at least once a year. And as annoying as it is to sit around and wait, get my eyes dilated, and then wait for my vision to de-blur, I know many places exist in the world where people can’t get proper vision care at all.

The team behind Peek (the Portable Eye Exam Kit) want to combat that problem, and they’re harnessing technology to do it. Using a smartphone app and a specialized adapter, they’re hoping to bring easy, cheap eye tests to remote locations like rural villages in developing countries.

Since you can’t easily lug around a big phoropter or a fundus camera (which can cost more than $16,000), it can be tough to ensure remote communities receive proper treatment. As a result, many more people suffer from vision problems than necessary. According to Dr. Andrew Bastawrous, one of the opthamologists working on Peek, four out of five people who are blind as a result of conditions that are preventable or curable—which is why even simple screening could make a huge impact.

Peek Retina

The Peek Retina is a clip-on attachment for smartphones that supplants both an opthalmoscope and a retina camera. It provides a lens through which the smartphones own camera can be used to take a high quality, close-up picture of the retina. And it fits in a pocket, to boot.

Even better, the Peek doesn’t require much in the way of specialized knowledge to use, and diagnosis can be accomplished remotely, since you can just use the smartphone’s own capabilities to send images to specialist eye doctors elsewhere.

Peek is raising funds via Indiegogo through early January, but it’s already run clinical and field trials in Kenya, Botswana, and Mali, and they hope to ship the final adapters in October of 2015.

While the crowdfunding options allow you to buy a Peek for yourself, you also have the option of buying one for a healthcare worker who needs one. The team is also working with Doctors without Borders and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to identify places where Peek could be most beneficial.

Peek in use