Selfies help medics keep an eye on their patients during coronavirus pandemic

Published on 24 November 2020

Selfies are usually associated with teenagers and social media – but for patients at East Kent Hospitals they are proving a vital way of keeping a check on their eye health.

The ophthalmology team asked people to take the images of their eyes when the coronavirus pandemic meant they could not see patients face-to-face for an examination.

They set up a dedicated email address where the pictures could be sent, and then reviewed by an expert doctor – and it proved so popular they are planning to continue even once restrictions are lifted.

Dr Aine Rice, Covid lead for ophthalmology at East Kent Hospitals, said it was just one of the ways the service had adapted during the pandemic.

She said: “It was a daunting task at first, because we weren’t sure how well video or phone appointments would work for our patients.

“But once we started to explore the options and the technology then we could find ways to make it work – like asking people to take selfies and email them across.

“We maintained our emergency service throughout the first lockdown, and then were able to reintroduce some speciality clinics, but with some patients shielding, or who felt uncomfortable coming to hospital, we had to think of alternatives.”

The service had to move from the William Harvey Hospital to Kent and Canterbury, but made use of other sites as well for patients who needed physical checks of their eyes.

Dr Rice said: “We have specialist equipment at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Folkestone, Buckland Hospital in Dover and at Estuary View in Whitstable, so we were able to invite people to one of those if we needed detailed images of their eyes.

“Mr Afsar Jafree, one of our associate specialists and IT lead clinician for ophthalmology, was shielding during the peak so he set up his laptop and screens at home and spent his days reviewing the images and checking for any problems.

“We managed to see around 1,000 patients a month with this system, and it has proved hugely successful in terms of the results, and is also very popular with patients.”

The team are also expanding their work with community opticians, with some able to see patients with minor eye conditions, avoiding the need for them to come to hospital. 

Dr Rice said: “We have the systems in place now to make sure we can continue to provide a good service to our patients even with tighter restrictions.

“Our team have been fantastic in finding new ways of working and adapting and we’ve had great support from the community as well.

“I’ve been really impressed with how our patients have responded – some have never taken a selfie before but now are happy to take a photo of their eye and send it to us so we can keep a check on their condition and their treatment.”