In remote communities, a family doctor may or may not be present, but an ophthalmologist likely isn't. That's why Brazilian startup Phelcom Technologies created the Eyer, a smartphone-connected device that allows patients' retinal-scan images to be analyzed by ophthalmologists via the internet.

Designed to be used by general practitioners or other healthcare professionals, the device ships with a compatible "high-quality" smartphone. That phone's camera lines up with the Eyer's lens, capturing images of the patient's artificially-illuminated retina. No pupil-dilating eye drops are necessary, and a complete retinal examination can be carried out in less than a minute.

An app on the phone subsequently transmits the images to the Eyer Cloud server, where they can be accessed by an ophthalmologist in a larger center. That physician then checks for disorders such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, or retinal detachment. If the initial user has no internet access at the time of the exam, images can be stored on the phone until access is available.

After being anonymized, the retinal images are also all added to a database. That collection of photos is now being utilized to "train" artificial intelligence-based algorithms to automatically detect various eye diseases, making things easier for users of the system. The AI is currently capable of recognizing diabetic retinopathy with an accuracy of 80 percent, although that figure is hoped to rise to 95 percent as more images are added to the database.

Down the road, the Eyer technology may additionally be built into a pair of glasses that automatically image the patient's retinas, standardizing the examination process.

The Eyer itself is already in production, and is in use as a stand-alone tool in various locations throughout Brazil – Eyer Cloud should be launching soon. The device sells for US$5,000, which includes the smartphone. According to funding group Agência FAPESP, the most widely-used conventional ophthalmoscope costs around $30,000, plus it must be connected to a computer.

For examples of other smartphone-connected retinal imaging devices, check out the offerings from Stanford University, Harvard Medical School, and Peek.

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