Peek potential

Researchers report that a portable sight testing tool could transform global eye health

Peek retinal imaging phone app

A portable eye test tool has “real-world potential to transform global eye health,” a new study claims.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Amref Health Africa in Kenya, reported a “clear positive” evaluation of the portable eye examination kit, Peek.

In the Nakuru Eye Disease Cohort Study, researchers explored Peek’s acceptability and usability, factors that they said could affect whether the system can be successfully adopted nationally and internationally.

During the study, which was funded by The British Council for the Prevention of Blindness, Fight for Sight, the Medical Research Council and the International Glaucoma Association, patients, healthcare providers and decision-makers in Kenya were interviewed about the context in which Peek would be used, how patients feel about this approach to eye health and whether it benefits eye care provision.

Peek is a smartphone-based system that has been developed as an affordable, user-friendly alternative for performing comprehensive eye exams anywhere in the world. It consists of a suite of apps, an adaptor for the phone’s camera, integrated systems to share the data with specialists and a training programme.

However, challenges were also identified by the study. These included the need for government support to deploy Peek, building capacity to train healthcare providers and mobilising community health volunteers. Ensuring data protection and access to low-cost smartphone technology also emerged as important themes.

Ophthalmologist and co-founder of the Peek Vision Foundation, Dr Andrew Bastawrous, said: “There are multiple human factors that need to be understood because ultimately, the technology has no value when not appropriately used in the right hands, with the right support and right information being generated.”

He added: “Therefore, it is encouraging to find that Peek is perceived to be valuable as a tool that would increase access to high-quality eye services in rural, hard-to-reach areas. The technology has already demonstrated its accuracy, repeatability and consistency and we now know that Peek is an acceptable solution that supports patients’ needs and can help strengthen the eye health system.”

Discussing Peek’s potential, director of research at Fight for Sight, Dr Dolores Conroy, told OT: “Mobile technology has great potential to transform eye-healthcare delivery and it’s important that we have this evaluation of people’s views about Peek.

“The technology may be possible, but people have to be able to use it and to want to. Here we can see that they can and do. With the right commitment and backing there will be a real opportunity to overcome the current barriers to universal eye health.”

The research received additional funding from the Department for International Development and The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

Last year, OT spoke to research and development engineer at Peek Vision, Nigel Bolster, about their new innovations, including the Peek Retina. Find out more in the video below.