As the number of aging Americans grows, so do the cases of “avoidable blindness.” It is a term Insight Optics founder Brock Webberman uses often to explain their new tele-ophthalmology company.
We sat down with Webberman to get a better sense of how Insight Optics, launched out of the Heath Wildcatters incubator in Dallas, is tackling mobile eye care.
Brock Webberman, CEO of Insight Optics, teamed up with co-founder Aaron Enten during their time attending Johns Hopkins.
Insight Optics created a mobile telemedicine app for primary care providers to record and refer retinal exams to local specialists for review. An iPhone is attached to a handheld ophthalmoscope, allowing the app to record what a physician sees during a retinal exam. The app then presents the user with a list of ophthalmologists or optometrists readily available within a certain geographical area, who review the exam and send back a detailed report with findings.
“At Insight Optics, we’re in the business of preventing avoidable blindness,” says Webberman. These are cases where if caught early enough through detection or screening, blindness can be prevented. Insight Optics found through their research that between 80 and 90 percent of all new blindness cases could be prevented or avoided if caught early enough.
“There are 71 million patients with either a history of diabetes, unmanaged high blood pressure, or unmanaged high cholesterol who should be receiving some form of annual retinal eye exam to look out for a number of complications or symptoms that may lead to blindness. Out of those 71 million people, only 50 percent actually follow up and receive that annual retinal exam. We’re trying to capture that 50 percent that may or may not know that they need to get an exam done every year. Maybe they don’t have an optometrist or ophthalmologist readily available in their area to perform the exam or maybe it’s too [costly]both in time or money to go and get an exam done.”
THE PROVIDER NETWORK
Rather than stop at app development, Webberman and his team took the next step and built a provider network of primary care doctors who would use the software, and of ophthalmologists and optometrists who would do the readings.
“It’s essentially a lead generation tool for [eye care specialists]. Because if they do test a patient with a certain disease, they have the right to then follow up with that patient. Building the telemedicine network is a very stepwise process, almost a Catch 22. If you sign up a group of primary care providers and don’t have anybody reading tests, that’s obviously an issue. And then it’s hard to bring on certain ophthalmologists if there aren’t any exams coming in to read. We believe that’s a critical gap.”
Insight Optics is only a software company, but it was developed to work with any of the smartphone ophthalmoscopes currently on the market. They have worked with the Welch Allyn PanOptic and their iExaminer adapter, and have considered D-Eye and Volk. “We’ve gone through six or seven hardware devices to make sure that our software works with all of them.”
THE FUTURE OF TELEMEDICINE IS LOCAL
For Webberman, one of Insight Optics key differentiators is its focus on local providers.
“A lot of telemedicine plays that we see even outside of ophthalmology utilize dedicated screening centers; where they’re hiring physicians full-time to essentially sit behind a monitor and read these exams. What we’re trying to do is actively bring on physicians in the area who will not just read the exam but then actually follow up with that patient. We think that’s kind of a gap, at least in ophthalmology. We could easily get somebody to simply read these exams, but if we detect something, that patient is still going to get lost at some point in the process. We’ve found that we can actually increase patient compliance by providing them access to the same ophthalmologist or optometrist that reviewed their case in the first place. That kind of goes against a lot of things that we think about when we think of telemedicine. So we think that it may actually be the one thing needed to truly get a lot of people’s minds wrapped around the idea.”
Because of its founders’ roots, Insight Optics is testing its theories in Dallas and Atlanta. And they are taking their time, growing organically.
“We’re looking to first bring on one or two key opinion leaders in ophthalmology to be ready to accept exams. Then we actually go out and look for smaller ACOs, bringing on batches of primary care providers at a time; so that we can train them together, monitor them together, bring on their patients together. And we’ve found that that’s been a successful process for us so far.”