Team Eye visit India for field-work research

In March 2013, Team Eye (2011 Fellows Daryl Lim, Eduardo Lage, Nick Durr, and Shivang Dave) earned an $11,000 MIT MISTI-India India Innovation Fund grant to visit the country to gather information about the potential use and impact of its new device, QuickSee. QuickSee is a low-cost handheld device whose purpose is to prescribe glasses with the click of a button, eliminating a huge barrier of obtaining appropriate eyeglasses in remote or low-income settings due to the acute shortage of trained professionals.

While they traveled seven hours outside of Kolkata along a long stretch of highway in the far corner of West Bengal, Team Eye wondered how the four of them got here and what the CEO of Glocal Healthcare meant when he said “we’re going to take you to places so rural they make other NGO’s ‘rural places’ look urban.” Their grant ensured that Team Eye would travel to and throughout India to conduct crucial field-work to address knowledge gaps regarding barriers to obtaining an eyeglass prescriptions in low-resource settings, and device requirements by healthcare providers and patients. In addition, they hoped to gain insight into how the leading eye care institutes and rural hospitals provide highquality, low-cost healthcare to historically underserved populations in rural areas.

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Team Eye with Lt. Commander Ranjith RM (Retired) at the Glocal hospital in Berhampore, West Bengal Team Eye (at right) explained QuickSee to Mr. Muthuramalingum (Senior refractionist, standing) and Dr. Illango (Medical consultant, seated) at the Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
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Team Eye visiting an Aravind Eye Institute clinic in Madurai. They observed how vision exams were performed in this and other settings. The LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, one of two major clinics Team Eye visited on the research mission, in addition to many village clinic visits.

From Kolkata they went south to Hyderabad and Madurai to visit the prestigious LV Prasad and Aravind Eye Institutes, respectively. These eye institutes are world-leaders in providing top-notch eye care in low-resource settings. As they navigated through the dense crowds of patients and families waiting to get seen—lines that were equally dense outside and inside the hospitals—their eyes were opened to the reality of healthcare in low-resource settings. They observed the barriers facing rural patients to get to these hospitals and vision clinics, studied the patient throughput of these hospitals, visited rural healthcare camps, and came to understand the most relevant social barriers.

They also learned of the cost range NGOs could afford for their new technology, iterated the device design with the targeted end-user, and even were suggested new use cases (applications) of the prototype device by vision nurses— understanding that forms the basis of any entrepreneurial endeavor.

In the rural communities, they learned about the Registered Medical Practitioners (“RMP”)—small shop-keepers that sell pharmaceuticals (over-thecounter and prescription) and healthcare supplies. These individuals and their families have been embedded in the local society for generations and thus have gained credibility in regards to medical decisions even though they have no formal training. Team Eye learned how they often are the first, and sometimes the only, point of contact with the “healthcare system” that a villager has. Thus, they are not only stakeholders, but are gate-keepers to villagers seeking further care, making them a focal point in the rural healthcare system.

Supplementing the insight gained, the trip laid the foundation for future collaborations with these key eye institutes and with a leading non-profit specializing in developing eyecare-related medical devices and drugs for much of the low-resource regions of the world. Since Team Eye’s technology falls within the mandates of their mission they are eager to collaborate. Some of the fieldwork observations will help with upcoming review article titled “From unseen to seen: Tackling the global burden of uncorrected refractive errors” that they are writing for the Annual Reviews in Biomedical Engineering.

This trip brings Team Eye closer to achieving its mission: “Making eyeglass prescriptions accessible to all.”

For more information about Team Eye (aka Plenoptika) and the QuickSee, go to mvision.madrid.org/team-eye