Technology and innovation in eye care

With global blindness set to reach 60 million by 2050, we need to reverse the trend before it’s too late. The old way simply isn’t working. We need to keep pushing boundaries and lead from the front of eye health innovation now, if we’re going to help ensure a brighter tomorrow.

New data shows the number of people living with blindness is set to reach 60 million by 2050. Even though efforts from across the eye health sector have led to a decrease in the prevalence of blindness, global trends such as an ageing population, general population growth and the rise of diseases such as diabetes means we are facing a new blindness crisis.

At Orbis we know the only way to counter this new threat is to collaborate with partners to pioneer the latest in cutting-edge technology. We believe this is the best way to enable us to share critical skills and knowledge with more eye teams around the world, and ultimately, help us reach more people who are needlessly blind - more efficiently - than ever before.

Dr. Dan Neely discusses a case with Dr. Wael Hamoudeh in Syria

As Dr. Dan Neely, professor of Ophthalmology University of Indiana, and medical adviser for Orbis puts it "You can only send people and equipment to so many places, but you can go everywhere, an unlimited number of times, with technology. That is the power and force-multiplier that technology provides us.

The global eye health community - including Orbis and our incredible network of volunteers and partners - has been making great progress in the fight against avoidable blindness. But with experts predicting global blindness will reach 60 million by 2050, the latest technology and innovation is a crucial sight-saving tool.

For almost 40 years the cornerstone of our work has been to train eye teams in order to improve the quality of care available around the world. Our incredible volunteer network of world-leading medical experts are the best in the business - and by harnessing the latest internet and mobile technologies we can maximise their impact.

Here are a few of the ways we're using technology to fight the global blindness crisis.

Cybersight

Through our award-winning telemedicine platform, Cybersight, we can make an impact in places where a physical presence simply isn't possible due to cost, logistics or security.

With advanced online training tools and access to international experts and trainers, Cybersight helps eye health professionals – regardless of where they are located – to improve skills, collaborate on diagnosis and treatment of patients, and connect with a truly global community of practice that includes technicians, nurses, optometrists and ophthalmologists.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cybersight has become more important than ever before – 26,000 eye heroes watched more than 2.3 million training videos in 2020 alone, demonstrating the incredible commitment of our partners and volunteers to improving patient care and saving sight all over the world.

Cybersight is our award winning tele-medicine platform

Flying Eye Hospital

Our Flying Eye Hospital is not only packed with the latest medical equipment, it has some of the very latest training facilities, too. The entire plane is linked up through an advanced audio visual system, meaning those in the classroom can watch surgeries happening in the operating theatre live in 3D - making it as close to the real thing as looking down the microscope yourself.

CNBC visit the Flying Eye Hospital in 2017

Simulation centre

Just as pilots learn to fly planes through simulation training, our simulation training program uses virtual reality, cutting-edge prosthetics, and highly sophisticated, life-like mannequins so that eye care teams can build their skills and confidence safely before progressing to real-life surgeries.

Simulation training has been proven to effectively decrease complication rates, reduce surgical time and improve outcomes among a surgeon’s early surgical cases. This results in a better patient experience, cost savings and improved standards of care.

Our simulation training is another example of how we're using technology to train more eye health professionals to end avoidable blindness.

We first introduced simulation training on-board the Flying Eye Hospital in 2018 with funding from Collins Aerospace, and have since rolled out the technology in two teaching institutions in South America, where trainees can use audiovisual equipment connected to microscopes to record their simulated surgical assignments, then submit them to board-certified specialists for assessment based on international standards.

Artificial intelligence

A new artificial intelligence tool on our Cybersight platform can detect common eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, in seconds by examining digital photographs of the back of the eye. This is game-changing for increasing access to early detection, which is critical to prevent treatable eye conditions from leading to vision loss.

Further refinements will be made to increase the accuracy of the technology and the number of conditions this incredible tool can detect.

Our AI system analyses images of the back of the eye taken with any standard retina camera or even mobile phones

REACH - Refractive Error Amongst Children

Thanks to funding from the Qatar Fund for Development, we were able to establish a far reaching school eye screening programme in India, which incorporated new software called ReachSoft.

This software supports our activity to reduce childhood blindness by logging every child that is screened and following their treatment pathway - from glasses to surgery- alongside their ongoing notes. This information can be used to develop new programmes by assessing the data. As a result, this activity is paper free.

Boost App

BOOST (Better Operative Outcomes Software Tool) is a simple, free and user-friendly app designed to help monitor and improve cataract surgical outcomes. Developed in partnership with leading players in the eye care sector, the app takes eye care professionals through a step-by-step process to measure and analyse results by providing access to data in similar cases and making suggestions to correct issues and identify risks.

The app followed a discovery which showed that testing vision immediately after an operation is a good way of measuring the quality of the surgery.

You can only send people and equipment to so many places, but you can go everywhere, an unlimited number of times, with technology. That is the power and force-multiplier that technology provides us.

Dr. Dan Neely

Professor of Ophthalmology University of Indiana, and Orbis Volunteer Faculty

Virtual reality

Orbis, in collaboration with FundamentalVR, is currently developing a touch-sensitive, virtual reality training platform that will allow ophthalmology students to practice procedures on their own, without a professor present, on what feels like actual human tissue.

It's the world’s first-ever technology of its kind to use low-cost, off-the-shelf hardware, which will make it available at a fraction of the cost of existing surgical simulators. The platform will particularly benefit doctors in places where previous simulators were too big or expensive to be deployed.

New VR technology will enhance the quality of ophthalmology practice globally.

The first procedure available on the platform will be the surgical technique that is most commonly used in developing countries for treating cataract, the world’s leading cause of blindness. Future developments will enable students to use the same hardware to complete virtual reality training that improves their treatment of glaucoma, strabismus and other eye conditions.

We’d like to say a big thank you to our supporters and partners, it is due to their commitment that we're able to look for new ways to use technology to fight blindness in communities around the world.

Only by innovating will we be able to confront the blindness epidemic on the horizon.