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The company sells two devices to test refraction and for eye performance
Of all the ways the industries that the smartphone has unalterably changed, some of the most fascinating results are in the ways it has shifted how people view their responsibility for their own health.
Not only have more than half of all smartphone users downloaded a mobile health app for things like weight loss, exercise and pregnancy, but smartphones have also led to an increase in at-home testing for everything from blood tests to STD screenings to cancer detection, cutting down on the need for patients to see a doctor to perform routine tests, saving time and money on both ends.
EyeQue is a company providing that same service for, as its name suggests, eye tests. It sells a direct to consumer smartphone attachment that allows users to take vision tests that can measure their refraction to see if they need glasses, and another that can test eye performance.
On Tuesday, the company announced that it raised $11.2 million in a Series B round, bringing its total funding to $16.2 million. Investors in the round, all of whom had previously put funding into EyeQue, were unnamed.
Founded in 2015, EyeQue was started with the goal of providing low cost, but also accurate, vision tests to people around the world, especially to those who don't have access to a doctor.
"If you look at it from a global perspective, much of the world needs eyeglasses, yet there’s literally hundreds of millions of people that have never had an eye test. So we started from that type of lofty position," John Serri, PhD, co-founder and CTO of EyeQue, told me in an interview.
"The idea was to get this technology directly into consumers hands. Our initial focus is the U.S. market and we literally have thousands and thousands of devices out there that people are using every day to test their eyesight. They’re using that to purchase eye glasses, to confer with their eye doctor, they’re taking more tests, because the more tests you take with our technology the more accurate your results become."
The company's first device was the EyeQue Personal Vision Tracker, which can be purchased on Amazon, the Home Shopping Network or though EyeQue's own store. Once the users receives it, they also download a free mobile app and are instructed on how to test their refraction, which indicates if they suffer from nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism.
"Functionally what you’ll see is a red and green line, and you make some simple controls on the screen to bring lines together. When you bring the lines together, the red and green lines turn yellow, and, from that, the amount of movement to get the lines to converge corresponds to refraction error. Then, once you do that over different angles, you’re able to compute the astigmatism, so we are able to create very accurate measurements for ordering eyeglasses: the sphere, the cylinder and the axis," Serri explained.
In March, EyeQue released its second device, the EyeQue Insight visual acuity screener, which tests and tracks a user's vision changes.
"It’s very good for children. There's a myopia epidemic around the world because kids are using a lot of smartphones and they’re holding the phones close to their face, and they’re not outdoors as much. People are develop myopia, they’re becoming more and more nearsighted, and it’s growing at a rapid rate," said Serri.
"If you can catch this in children at an early age you can really mitigate the onset of myopia. If you don’t treat myopia it can lead to some serious eye problems later in life. So the visual acuity screening is meant to do things like that and so we’re looking at that area as well, and we’re enhancing the software and the delivery of those technologies."
Once the tests are done, users can access their data either on their smartphone or through a Web portal, which they can then use to buy glasses online or take to their eye doctor.
"There’s a lot of people who actually use our device who have never been to an eye doctor because they have normal vision, so this helps them to get an idea of what their vision is. Along with our presentation of the information, we also provide a lot of general educational information about eyes, so we find ourselves trying to demystify eyesight to people, trying to make it simple, understandable what it is these tests actually are," said Serri.
The Personal Vision Tracker retails for $29.99 and the EyeQue Insight sells for $89.99. They are sold in 80 countries, and so far 11,000 people have taken eye tests using the company's devices. Over 40,000 refraction tests have been taken.
The relatively low costs of the devices, as compared to the cost of seeing a doctor, helps patients see greater return on investment, Serri said.
"In terms of the ROI, if you look at it from the patient’s point of view, there’s a savings in terms of time. Generally you’re talking about taking the test a couple of times since there’s a bit of training associated with it so you might spend up to a half an hour to get good refraction test results. But compare that to time you have to go to the eye doctor and back and wait at the office. So if you’re just going for refraction, there’s a time savings," he told me.
"If you look at the price of the device, if you look at the total amount of savings that you have it can come to hundreds of dollars especially if it’s a complex subscription. So there’s a real benefit to use this type of technology."
All of that being said, while the EyeQue devices do allow users to bypass the need to go to a doctor for these kinds of tests, the company also makes sure to point out that what they are giving users is not a prescription, nor do they want people to think that they don't have to go see a doctor after taking them.
"This does not alleviate the need go to the eye doctor for a health check of the eyes, which is very important. Doctors check for things like glaucoma and cataracts. Refraction is just one aspect of the full test, so we recommend that people continue to go to the eye doctor, but we now provide you with a convenient mechanism to test eyes anywhere, any time."
EyeQue's future plans
Going forward EyeQue has big plans for this current funding. A big part of it will go toward expanding geographically, specifically to countries in Asia, including India and China.
"There are a lot of smartphones out there, especially Android. In many countries people have high end Android phones. If you go to China, you’ll notice that they never built wiring into houses for landline phones, they just went straight to cellular because it’s very easy to implement," said Serri.
"This goes back to the general goal of the company: we want to get this out to people who don’t have access to these things. So you can see it being done, for example, on a scale of a village where somebody has a phone, can take tests for different people, and then use that for getting eyeglasses. So we’re exploring that and we’ll begin to do that with a few different groups. Eventually we will be going in a global scale."
It will also go toward product development, specifically developing devices to deal with other potential eye problems.
"We’re sticking with eyes; the name of the company is EyeQue, and there’s just so many things in the vision area that we can address," Serri told me.
"The idea is to use smartphones to look at different kind of things. We’re looking at imaging technologies that can be used to detect cataracts or glaucoma, so we have some of these things on our planning road map right now. Of course we want to improve the refraction so we’re coming out with some devices which are going to be more accurate and easier to use then the current devices."
Finally, the funding will be used to expand the team from 15 employees to 20 by the end of the year, with the addition of software developers, as well as optical engineer who have experience with medical devices.
EyeQue is also looking at entering into some new partnerships, both on the eyewear side, to help users buy their glasses, as well with optometrists.
"We’re looking at how we can use this technology, for example, as a telemedicine outpatient type of device, and there’s a growing interest in those areas as well," said Serri. "We have some discussions underway with various parties, both on the eyeglass side and on the doctor side. Given that they haven’t materialized yet, I won’t give any specifics, but eventually that will become known. There’s that path and we are exploring it."
But what EyeQue really wants to do is to take advance of the growing trend in healthcare of at-home testing.
"Our technology allows consumers to take accurate eye exams at home. So you have a tremendous advantage now to take tests more frequently. There are conditions where eyesight changes rapidly; for example, after a person gets Lasik, often over the first month, there can be a substantial change in how their eyes are working. With an at home device, you can take this test and not have to go into the doctor. That can save the doctor time and effort, save the patient time and effort and there are other conditions like that as well where vision is changing over time," said Serri.
"As a telemedicine device, at home, the eye doctor can see the test results from the consumer, they can confer together without them having to come into the office, but if something comes up they can say, ‘Come on in, let me check it out.’ So it’s an extension for the doctor to be able to do things without having a patient come in and that’s a tremendous time and money savings. This device affords that kind of capability."
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