Spotting Vision Problems Early

Donors underwrite cameras that can detect early indicators of eye disease

Exams that could save patients’ eyesight before problems arise are becoming part of a typical doctor’s visit at Lahey Primary Care offices, thanks to several generous gifts that are making eye care more high-tech. 

“People fear blindness in many cases even more than death itself,” said ophthalmologist David Ramsey, MD, PhD, MPH, the first incumbent of the new Lee Family Chair in Innovation at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “To be able to predict these things and head off problems, that is where I hope that we can innovate.” 

Dr. Ramsey is equipping Lahey primary and urgent care offices with infrared cameras that will screen patients for early signs of degenerative eye conditions that can lead to blindness if they go undetected. People with diabetes are especially at risk, as one of the complications of the disease can be damage to the blood vessels in the retina. Doctors, nurses and other staff will be able to use the new cameras to perform simple eye exams during a primary care appointment, making eye exams more accessible.

The cameras were funded by donations from a number of grateful patients, including John Risley of Nova Scotia, Canada.

An Inside Look

During a recent demonstration, Dr. Ramsey held the camera up to a patient’s eye. “Open those eyes wide,” he said. He then clicked a button, which made a snapping noise similar to a regular camera, and then turned the camera around to show the patient a screen that displayed a scan of the inside of her eye. “We can see the view of a clean and healthy retina,” he reassured her.

The camera uses an infrared light source to look inside the eye, and it doesn’t require dilation, medication or eye drops. The images are transferred to a patient’s electronic health record, allowing Lahey retina specialists to examine the eye from anywhere. If they find a problem, the patient will receive a referral for timely care by an ophthalmologist.

The cameras have already been installed in Lahey Primary Care offices in Wilmington, Beverly, Hamilton, Amesbury and Arlington. This year, the Lahey Health Hub in Lynnfield, the pharmacy at Lahey Medical Center, Peabody, and Lahey Primary Care in Billerica will also get cameras. As for the future, Dr. Ramsey hopes to install this technology in the Emergency Department at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, as well as Lahey urgent care locations in Danvers, Gloucester, Wilmington and Woburn. 

“This is just a start,” said Jeffrey Marx, MD, interim chair of surgery and chair of ophthalmology at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “Our goal is to provide better care for patients using the most recent technology and innovation.”

Dr. Ramsey believes telemedicine is the future of health care. “I want to take other forms of technology into our hospitals and into our emergency and urgent care centers,” he said. “I want to reach more than just our eyes. I want to reach other parts of the body as well, and make health care accessible for all of our patients.”