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Smartphone Technology in Clinical Ophthalmology

Published: 10/2/2019

In this article from Clinician’s Brief, our official clinical practice journal, Lucien V. Vallone, DVM, DACVO, Texas A&M University, describes how a typical smartphone--for the most part, without specialized adapters--can be used to capture and use ophthalmic images for the purposes of diagnosis and documentation.

Advancing smartphone technology is allowing clinicians to capture high-resolution photos and videos and facilitate convenient means of medical examination, documentation, and subsequent consultation in multiple disciplines, without the need for special techniques or accessory products.

Reports of smartphone photography and examination techniques in animals are limited mostly to individual descriptions of smartphone camera adapters used for fundoscopy. Successful fundus imaging has been achieved using such equipment; however, this incurs additional cost and equipment is often limited to specific smartphone models. The following outlines techniques for fundus and anterior segment imaging that predominantly do not require the purchase of accessory equipment.

Figure 1. A miniature schnauzer presented for red eye. This representative image of poor photographic technique was taken from a close working distance, but shadowing obscures details of the ocular surface from being perceived.

Maximizing Smartphone Camera Features

It is important to capture as much detail as possible when documenting ophthalmologic disorders. Examiners should maximize intrinsic smartphone camera features that can be adjusted to create adequately magnified, focused, and illuminated images of the eye. To achieve this, the smartphone camera should be brought to the minimum focusing distance (ie, the closest point at which a focused image is still maintained) before capturing the image. If available, optical zoom should be enabled to capture enhanced (typically ≤ 2×) magnification without losing image quality. Image quality (ie, resolution) is degraded when digital zoom—for most smartphones, typically anything > 2× magnification—is used. Modern 4K image resolution (ie, 3840 × 2160 pixels) allows smartphone photographers to significantly crop and enlarge photographs while still maintaining high-definition images capable of being printed or published at ≥300 pixels per inch.