Optometrists eye national rollout for remote vision tests
A Warrington optometry company has won funding to develop digital vision charts for remote eyecare consultations – thanks to the support of the Innovation Agency.
Family firm Optonet has created a system of innovative web-based vision tests, one of the first in the world, that patients can undergo in their own homes, with the supervision of a clinician.
The system has been given added impetus by the pandemic and will potentially spare patients a trip to a hospital eye department, an optician’s or GP surgery, and save administration costs.
The company’s Optonet Vision Unit is designed to run on any device and operating system. It is operated remotely by the clinician and accessed by the patient in their own home or care home.
The unit doesn’t need to be installed and uses readily available browsers to display the full suite of vision charts that would normally be available in an optician’s or hospital testing room. It includes a questionnaire that helps the clinician conduct a remote ophthalmic triage.
Last year Optonet won a £75,000 package of support from Innovate UK to adapt its vision tests for remote consultations with an innovative remote link to the patient’s computer or tablet, and to develop its triage questionnaire.
This year it landed a further £40,000 of funding from the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) to further develop its system for NHS Scotland where it is due to undergo clinical trials in the autumn. The company hopes the system will be adopted the next spring for home vision testing, possibly in several hospital eye departments.
Optonet hopes both projects will see their system validated to provide the basis for further spread and adoption across Scotland and England.
The company was founded in Spain 15 years ago by optometrists Teresa Matilla-Rodriguez and her husband Dr Guillermo Bueno-del-Romo, who both studied for their master’s degrees and PhDs at the University of Bradford (“Britain is the best place to study optometry,” according to Teresa).
The company originally focused on developing and delivering online continuing education and training courses in optometry until Guillermo started to explore online-only standardised vision charts, which is now its core business. Teresa and Guillermo set up a UK operation in Warrington in 2015 because it was a convenient location to settle with their family, close to transport connections.
Teresa said: “As far as we know, we are one of the first companies pioneering online home vision testing in the world. These are standardised tests. In fact, they are the gold standard and all our work is evidence-based and the end point of a lot of research.
“The pandemic has brought the need to use teleconsultations in eyecare for triage and monitoring visually-related conditions. Effective eyecare will require displaying vision tests on the patient’s own computers or tablets at home. Optonet Vision Unit is ground-breaking in being one of the first to offer quality digital vision charts for home vision testing.
“The benefits to the patient will be great. Many people don’t have easy access to eyecare – including residents in care homes, for instance – but our system may offer an alternative option through teleconsultations.”
Teresa added that the Innovation Agency’s enterprise and growth team had helped them develop their commercial proposition. The team also helped Optonet identify and apply for the best sources of funding and advised on and supported the application process.
“We knew we had a great product, but we wanted it to take off in the UK. We honestly wouldn’t be where we are today without the help the Innovation Agency has provided,” said Teresa.
The Innovation Agency’s Cheshire Commercial Manager Indi Singh said: “This was a really exciting project to work on because Optonet are doing something that no other company is doing and we’re confident it will have a major impact on the way eye care is delivered.
“We knew their project was viable, particularly given the pandemic and the need to offer services remotely in the longer term – all they needed was a helping hand in the right direction.”
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