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Posted By Hillary Bernard, Friday, April 26, 2013
Updated: Friday, April 26, 2013

Who hasn’t been asked "what’s it like to have” fill in the blank… When working with eyes, whether imaging them or making prescription lenses, everyone assumes you know what it’s like to be blind or to have certain diseases. How can we describe to someone what it is in fact like to have a degenerative disease that we have never experienced?

As imagers, we can describe the physical characteristics, the part that the curious person generally isn’t so curious about. Want to know about ARMD? Sure, I can describe what it looks like from MY eyes when imaging it. I can describe the process and breakdown of the retina and how it affects Bruch’s membrane or the RPE; but what it really looks like from the patient’s perspective? Luckily, I am at a loss.

But now technology has a way of keeping up with us! The Braille Institute has come up with an app called VisionSim that allows you to "see” with certain diseases. Using your camera on your phone or other device, it simulates what the world would look like at different stages of disease.

The app shows macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract, and diabetic retinopathy. So you know that kind old lady with macular degeneration that drives herself in from out of town every six weeks for her injections? Ever wonder what the road map looks like to her when she is on her way to you? Well now you can see it for yourself… Over time that little blind spot becomes invasive and all consuming.

How about that patient who has a constant battle with their forever worsening glaucoma? They say it is like getting tunnel vision, and while I feel confident I may have actually experienced "tunnel vision” during a few of the more stressful moments in life, it has immediately corrected itself. But what is it like for those who are not so fortunate?

A simulation of cataract is another common condition which is available to be observed. As my grandfather described it to me- the world gets brighter and everything has a glare. Sort of like a migraine maybe? I was always curious how it compared with normal vision and always hoping to never find out. Well the app gods heard my thoughts because here it is in all its glory. This one seems to me to give a bit more realistic simulation than the glaucoma simulation in its representation, but how can I really know for sure?!


And finally, the diabetic retinopathy simulation. I have often heard exclamations of "Oh my gosh, I can see my own veins!” or "I can see the inside of my own eyes!” moments after shining obnoxiously bright lights into the eyes of our poor unsuspecting patients. However, I’ve never had a patient tell me that they can regularly see veins obstructing their vision. The simulated diabetic retinopathy presentation shows the splotchy vision eventually having veins come into view? Whether or not this has any truth to it I do not know as my encounter with patients does not often include specific descriptions of their vision. Any of you out there know the truth of this??

So what is my favorite part of this app? Well besides that fact that it can give you a sneak peek into the world of some of your dear patients, and hopefully open all our hearts to a bit more compassionate and empathetic… It’s free! I personally have an Android phone so I hopped on to the Google Play Store to download it, but I know it is also available (still for free) to all the Apple users out there. I think the Braille Institute did a good job with this, I just wish more people in ophthalmology knew about it.




Hillary Bernard, CRA has been at the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center for 5 years. She joined OPS in 2011 and is a member of the Professional Development Committee. In her spare time, she can be found out on her bike or racing her sailboat around the Great Lakes.

Tags:  app  blog  education  Interactive  iPhone  Meaningful Use  PDC  research  Social Media  Study  Tips  Vision app 

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Barbara S. McCalley says...
Posted Friday, May 03, 2013
Hillary, thanks for sharing this information. Now I can understand what my mother and mother-in-law are seeing (or not) with their eye issues.
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