How the Use of Smartphone Technology Enhanced the OPH Guatemala Service Learning Project

By Alisha Cornish, Associate Professor/Director of Ophthalmic Technology, Health Sciences Division

The Ophthalmic Program Benefits from New Technology

In the spring of 2017, the Vol State Ophthalmic Technician Program, with one-time special assistance from the Distributed Education department, purchased a vision screening system to utilize during its annual service-learning project in Guatemala. Every year, for the last 9 years, VSCC’s Ophthalmic Program has collaborated with the Hendersonville Rotary Club to provide medical services to people experiencing material poverty in Guatemala. Students from the Ophthalmic Program work hard to determine the prescription a patient needs and pair it with one of hundreds of pairs of glasses that have been donated to the project. During the 4 days of clinic, students and faculty service approximately 500-700 patients. Organization and fast facilitation of patients through the exam process is key to servicing the large number of people waiting and needing assistance.

Many pieces of equipment typically used for examining the eye are large, heavy, and expensive. The equipment generally requires large powered equipment tables, which are not portable, and therefore are not realistic for use in program service learning projects outside of the classroom. Prior to the grant provided by Distributed Education, the program did have one piece of portable equipment that read the prescription from the patient’s eyes. This piece of equipment is 9+ years old and is inaccurate in many situations.  Eyenetra was purchased to attempt to address some of the challenges the project faces by taking three generally bulky, expensive, and heavy pieces of ophthalmic equipment and turning them into lightweight portable pieces of equipment that can be used anywhere. The goal with the Eyenetra system was to improve the quality of the prescriptions given to patients while increasing the number of patients examined in a given day.

The Eyenetra system contains three pieces of equipment, 2 of which use a cell phone to accomplish their task. The Netra is a lightweight autorefractor that reads the prescription from a patient’s eyes and provides instructions to the patient in Spanish or English. The autorefractor system proved to be more accurate in situations where the older, more expensive autorefractor was very inaccurate. The down side to this system was that the volume of sound could not be increased to a high enough level to overcome the level of noise in the clinic. With hundreds of people waiting near the clinic exam rooms, the clinic was very loud. In addition to the difficulty hearing the instructions, many patients had difficulty understanding the instructions. In general, younger patients were more successful in using the device versus the older patients.

A patient in Guatemala uses the Netra to measure the prescription from her eyes.
A patient in Guatemala uses the Netra to measure the prescription from her eyes.

One of the most positive aspects to come from the use of this new equipment was the help from the Netrometer (lensometer) and Netropter (phoropter). The Netrometer allowed our clinic to read the prescriptions from glasses that a patient was currently wearing. This equipment allowed students and faculty to see the prescription that patients were used to wearing, allowing us to choose a prescription that would not be too different. Making large changes to a patient’s prescription can prevent a patient from easily adapting. Most glasses worn by patients in Guatemala are donations. In addition, glasses that lose their prescription tagging during the busy clinic can be re-tagged with the prescription by using the Netrometer. In the past, glasses that had lost their prescription tagging were useless, as we didn’t know what the prescription was in order to match it to a patient. The Netropter was the favorite piece of equipment used by students during the project. Students and faculty have always obtained the prescriptions by hand, which is a slow process. The Netropter allowed the clinic to see more patients with better accuracy in our results.  The program will likely purchase 2-3 more Netropters for use in future clinics.

A Guatemala patient holds the Netropter to her face while an ophthalmic student uses it to determine the prescription needed by the patient.
A Guatemala patient holds the Netropter to her face while an ophthalmic student uses it to determine the prescription needed by the patient.

In addition to its use for our international service-learning project, the Eyentra System will be utilized for local community vision screenings, teaching demonstrations for visiting high school students, and incorporated into some program courses as an interactive teaching tool.

To hear more about the spring service learning trip, please join Alisha for a special presentation on Friday, October 6th at 11:00 a.m. in the Technology Learning Center (Thigpen 224). Registration is encouraged, but not required. Visit the Training and Development calendar to sign-up.

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