EyeNetra’s briefcase-sized exam kit contains a smartphone-based autorefractor and autolensometer, plus a handheld phoropter. Founder Vitor Pamplona, PhD, talks about the tiny tools’ technology.
Most eyecare professionals (ECPs) spend their time providing services to patients in their offices, so they develop a parochial view of the ophthalmic world. Talk to a guy like Pamplona, the chief technology officer and co-founder of EyeNetra, and you get a view of the need for eyecare and eyewear that’s global, and well, eye opening.
EyeNetra’s mission is to increase the availability of vision care services worldwide. Its first objective: refractive care. “With two-thirds of the world’s population requiring eyeglasses, the need for refractive care is enormous,” Pamplona explained. Research indicates that there are over two billion people needing corrective eyeglasses. While eyeglasses are often inexpensive and easy to acquire, the barrier is often the refractive measurement. Pamplona pointed out that many of these people have never even seen a doctor. “With the accurate devices we develop, we can empower more people to get the eyeglasses they need. As the company matures, we will expand into other aspects of self-testing eyecare such as retinal imaging and corneal mapping. Right now, we’re offering Netra, a smartphone-based self-refracting device; the Netropter, a simple phoropter to optimize the refractive measurements; and the Netrometer, a smartphone-based lensometer, all integrated in one online platform to connect patients and prescribers,” Pamplona said.
The biggest impact for the products EyeNetra is producing is in small, rural or remote communities-in the U.S. or overseas. According to Pamplona, that’s because those areas do not attract permanent medical professionals. Eyeglasses can make people locally competitive and create a ripple effect, which positively impacts the economy. For example, in India, EyeNetra trains villagers to perform refractions guided by online optometrists in real time. The biggest demand, however, is in developed countries. “Most of our customers are either from the U.S. or Europe, increasing access or charging premiums for concierge optometry,” Pamplona said.
When asked if the company was getting challenged by optometric or ophthalmological boards about EyeNetra’s refraction products, Pamplona explained, “We are a technology company. EyeNetra is simply providing the tools to optometrists, ophthalmologists and general practitioners in order to collect the same level of refractive data but in a more efficient way. We are not disrupting the legal requirements of a refraction where those laws exist, such as in the U.S. Every country or U.S. state has a different way to distribute eyecare, and our solutions adapt extremely well to the local circumstances. In the majority of cases, we work with qualified healthcare professionals to administer or supervise, remotely or not, the refractions.”
While EyeNetra’s mission is laudible, some ECPs are skeptical. “In most cases, they fear a loss of control because the patient self-administers their refraction,” Pamplona explained. “Of course, the refraction is sent back to the doctor to either screen or prescribe (if he is comfortable with the data), but having the patient self-refract is something new.”
Even so, some ECPs feel there is some risk in enabling people to receive a refraction on their own without a full eye health examination. Pamplona recounted a shift in the industry: “At Vision Expo West last year, I attended a session where optometrists were discussing taking refraction out of the complete eye examination. Similar discussions happened at ARVO. There are several benefits of such an approach. Having refractions more universally available would bring many more people into the eyecare system who were previously unaware of their visual conditions. Optometrists could finally market preventive care services, instead of disguising the eye health exam into a cheaper refractive test. With eye insurance utilization being as low as 25% in the U.S., you start to wonder why the remaining 75% that have paid premiums are not coming back to the clinic these days.
Moving forward, I believe refraction will be seen similarly to measuring your temperature or blood pressure. You know your values and go see a doctor if something changes. The patient will be able to self-refract at any time, helping doctors to preempt medical conditions even before the two-year prescription expires.”
Ed De Gennaro MEd, ABOM, is director, professional content of First Vision Media Group.