Improving eye care with Tele-opthalmology

Improving eye care with telemedicine 

Dr Don Pek, a registrar at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s ophthalmology department, conducting a teleophthalmology session with his patient Ong Que Beng, 54, a cabby.

Need to see your doctor?

Just turn on your home computer and have a “face to face” consultation.

Telemedicine, the use of audio-visual technology to provide medical consultation, care and diagnosis from a distance, is already here. While the field is still fledgling, it is definitely growing. Many clinics and hospitals are already trying out various projects in a bid to bring health care closer to patients, increase access or reduce the load on acute facilities.

At Hougang Polyclinic, patients with chronic blurred vision get to “see” an eye specialist, without having to be at a hospital or specialist clinic.

Using a modified teleconferencing system, the patient and an eye doctor from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) are able to see and speak to one another. Eye test results and scans done at the polyclinic are transmitted for the doctor to study.

The system uses portable cameras and multiple computer screens for the doctor and patient to view the eye scans and see each other concurrently.

About 250 of the polyclinic’s eye patients have had consultations with eye specialists this way. The cost of seeing the doctor either at the TTSH Eye Centre itself or via teleconferencing is similar.

Cabby Ong Que Beng, 54, who lives near the polyclinic, was glad he did not have to go all the way to TTSH to see an eye doctor for his blurred vision.

“I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning because the doctor was not in front of me. But after a while, I found it was okay. It saved me a lot of traveling time,” said Mr Ong, who found out he had mild cataract and only needed spectacles to correct his vision.

Such an initiative brings health care to the community level and takes the load off acute institutions, said Clinical Associate Professor Lim Tock Han, Director of NHG Eye Institute and a senior consultant at the hospital’s ophthalmology department.

Almost half of the eye patients at the TTSH Eye Centre presents with chronic blurred vision. But many visits may be unnecessary if patients have only mild cataracts or dry eyes, which can be handled by a change of spectacles or eye drops.

Plans are underway for TTSH to extend the programme to two other polyclinics by the end of next year.

Tele-ophthalmology may not be a big field now, but is set to expand with the training of clinical optometrists and cheaper equipment, said A/Prof Lim.

With that, it is possible to set up various “primary eye care centres” around the island so that patients do not always need to go to a hospital or specialist for certain eye conditions. In time, spectacle shops manned by trained optometrists can even link up with eye doctors to provide more comprehensive eye care for customers, he said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.