A collaboration between Addenbrooke's Hospital, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Healthy Child programme screening team, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council, and the county's community and hospital NHS Trusts has seen a pioneering approach provided for schoolchildren who have missed out on eye screening during the pandemic.
One in five UK children is affected by poor eyesight but it can be detected early on with screening during the first year of school. At this point problems can be successfully treated with glasses or patches; if not detected, they can develop into life-long issues including loss of sight.
The Paediatric Ophthalmology Team at Addenbrooke’s has developed and clinically tested a digital application, called DigiVis, which allows adults and children to test their own vision accurately at home.
DigiVis is a web-based app which enables accurate sight testing for people from the age of four upwards. To use the app, two digital devices such a smartphone and laptop are needed in addition to a few household items to calibrate the system, such as a tape measure or ruler and a standard sized business / store card.
After pairing the devices over the internet, the user matches letters shown on their hand-held device with those displayed at a distance on the other device. The app automatically works out the smallest size letter that can be recognised – a measurement called visual acuity.
Parents should be contacted through their child’s school with information about vision screening and how to access the DigiVis test. Using the DigiVis measurements, the screening team can identify the children who need a full eye examination and organise this.
CUH consultant paediatric ophthalmologist Dr Louise Allen, said: "It can be difficult for parents to detect if their child has reduced vision, but early treatment is crucial, making screening really important. Using digital technology will allow us to reach those children whose screening has been disrupted by the Covid crisis, to ensure that they don’t miss out.
"I want to thank everyone involved in this collaboration, which is an excellent example of teamwork across organisations to find a solution at a time of national crisis. The service will benefit thousands of children in the county, and may be a potential model for vision screening worldwide."
With backing from the Medical Research Council, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust and the local charity Fight Against Blindness, the DigiVis web-app has been fully clinically tested and CE marked, meaning it meets European health and safety requirements.
Service lead for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Healthy Child Programme Andrea Graves said: "Working in collaboration with our colleagues across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has been fantastic. By sharing our resources and expertise, we can ensure children are not missing out on a vital check early in their development.
"Using DigiVis is just one of the choices we are offering families as an interim solution whilst we operate under the current restrictions. Although clinic appointments are available, I would encourage any families who receive a vision screening letter to try using DigiVis. It is very simple and there are easy-to-follow instructions.
"If any families need help using DigiVis, have questions about vision screening or have concerns about their child’s vision please call us on 0300 029 50 50 or text us on 07520 649 887."
Dr Liz Robin, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough's director of public health, added: "This new technology will contribute to the success of our Best Start in Life programme; a multi-agency partnership which aims to ensure all children in Cambridgeshire are healthy, happy, and confident.
"I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this project in what has been a particularly challenging time. It really does go to show how committed we all are to delivering a safe and effective service to our children at all times."