Bangalore: Toggling two iPhones, each downloading live data from patients in Kolar in Karnataka and Kolkata in West Bengal, paediatric retinal surgeon Anand Vinekar showed on Thursday how high-resolution retinal images can be received on the phone, diagnosed and a digitally signed medical report sent to the patient in any remote location.
The move marks the debut of the iPhone in healthcare applications in India, and taking the first step is Narayana Nethralaya Postgraduate Institute of Ophthalmology in Bangalore, which has launched a telemedicine programme that will screen rural and semi-urban infants for a potentially blinding condition called retinopathy of prematurity, or RoP.
All premature babies, with birth weight less than 2kg, are at risk of RoP. Of 27 million live births in India every year, around 8% are premature and 15-20% of them could go blind due to RoP if not screened and treated on time, say Narayana Nethralaya ophthalmologists.
The hospital has been running some programmes in a few districts of northern Karnataka for screening RoP and other common conditions including ocular cancers. But speedy access to the retinal images, diagnosis and treatment posed some challenges, says its chairman Bhujang Shetty, leading to the development of a software suite in collaboration with i2i Telesolutions.
The partners say the new pilot will now extend throughout Karnataka and run for three years, during which they expect it to spread to other parts of the country. “The Central government has shown keen interest in taking it to other parts of the country,” he said, as it is already supporting the programme under the National Rural Health Mission.
“If an infant needs treatment, it needs to be given within 48 hours or else the retina detaches, causing permanent blindness,” said Dr Vinekar, the project coordinator at Narayana Nethralaya.
Making its software compliant with the US Food and Drug Administration’s Dicom (digital imaging and communication in medicine) standards, i2i says its solution can be used anywhere in the world.
What it has developed is an end-to-end online treatment regimen—from data acquisition, transmission to eventually issuing a medical report in a PDF format and finally sending it across over iPhone with the doctor’s digital signature.