Imperativeness of innovation and technology in challenging times like COVID

Connecting with anyone around the world has become so easy and technology makes that happen. It is only right to say, we would not have been able to do so much in so little time had technology not moved forward and given us the possibilities, the fruits of which we bear, at present.

by Rahul Kumar, Senior Manager-Program Technology, Orbis
Annu Choudhury, Senior Officer-Communications, Orbis

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown is far-reaching. It is important to think and rebuild our everyday life, considering the presence of the virus even post lockdown period. Given the current situation, it is also evident that certain social distancing measures will continue to be in place for the long-term, which might define a new routine – a new normal.

Look at the fast-paced world accommodating to the unforeseen situation so quickly. Whether it is children’s education or working from home, we have adjusted to the situation and have fit our routines well within it. Teachers are connecting with their students and conducting online classes using technology. People are organizing interactions, conducting meetings and joining webinars safely from their homes. Patients are connecting with their doctors and consulting them using technology. So many activities with one thing in common – technology.

How does technology contribute in the context of eye care?

Online Training and Mentorship: During the COVID-19 lockdown worldwide, many of us found ourselves in a unique situation of inaction. While work as usual had stopped, most eye hospitals and eye health professionals had their capacities to serve patients reduced. In India, Orbis partner hospitals were directed by the Government to provide emergency services alone. Partner hospitals which are centers of excellence such as Aravind Eye Hospital had to stop trainings of eye health professionals.

Training and education are key to continue the Orbis mission. To continue its journey of transforming lives by preventing and treating avoidable blindness, Orbis has been particularly leveraging Cybersight, its unique platform to train and upskill professionals across the globe. Since 2003, Cybersight has been helping eye health professionals improve their skills, collaborate on diagnosis and treatment of their patients and connect with the global community of practitioners that includes technicians, nurses, optometrists and ophthalmologists. Through its live webinars, Cybersight was able to reach out to thousands of people from the safety of their homes. What one requires is a regular smartphone and basic internet connection. Cybersight has a wealth of resources for learning and practice. It also offers consultation between mentors and mentees along with online certified courses, making it one of the most viable platforms in the current scenario. The objective is to connect doctors and eye care professionals with each other, provide trainings and eventually continue serving the community in our collective fight against avoidable blindness.

In fact, recently, Orbis conducted a week-long special COVID related webinar series on Cybersight for eye care management teams, professionals in the NGO sector and many others. Themed, ‘Unlocking Possibilities During Lockdown’ the webinar connected participants from 41 countries. This was proof of the fact that everyone came together through technology to discuss the way forward during the lockdown and beyond.

Teleconsultation: Eye care providers are also thinking innovatively and adopting tele-health as key technology for safe and efficient communication with their patients. Care providers are using different means such as telephonic consultation, WhatsApp, internet-based chat applications, video consultation to connect.

This is just the beginning and we are, to an amazing extent, managing to work around the crisis. The long-term effect of this pandemic, as we can see, is going to bring forth new norms which have pushed us and will continue to drive us to think innovatively. Consequently, telehealth has immense potential to come closest to real time consultation and diagnosis. Given the current track of teleconsultation in the eye health space, it seems there is an opportunity for the doctors to make final diagnosis remotely for certain cases and patients can also feel assured of favourable treatment.

Data Analysis and Research: The undeniable role of technology and its far-reaching capacity to facilitate the crucial work that we all do can be demonstrated in the work that Orbis continues to do despite lockdown. Here’s an instance of Orbis bearing the fruits of its decision to digitize one of its programs in 2016. It was decided that the Refractive Error Among Children (REACH) program in India would be paperless. It was a new approach to school screening programs which would integrate all aspects of service delivery and data management through the IT systems. Orbis in India developed a new software, REACHSoft, to support the planning, implementation and management of the program.

From the first step of scheduling a visit to a school to service delivery, REACHSoft supported every step of the planning and implementation process: developing the school database, logging school-wise student database, scheduling, planning and service delivery activities, collecting data at the individual student level during service delivery (primary screening, secondary evaluation, spectacle prescription and dispensing, referral management, etc.) as well as monitoring progress and generating reports aiding the management of the program. The REACH program has captured all information from five states in REACHSoft in less than three years. Simply put, this would enable us to follow the journey of a child patient in an area or several child patients in an area within a few minutes. What does that translate to?

As an organization that lays stress on training and research-based outputs, the three-year data captured by REACHSoft is a gold mine for not only Orbis to conduct research, to understand the gaps in service delivery and also serve as baseline to plan further school screening programs but also serves as authentic data to understand the burden of refractive error among children in India. Had it not been for the decision to make REACH a technology driven program, Orbis would not have been able to continue its research initiatives along with its partners during the COVID lockdown period.

At present, we are analyzing results from the REACHSoft data to publish papers in peer reviewed journals. The three-year hard work can be presented to the world at large and may open doors in future to formulate policies in terms of approach to school screening in the current COVID scenario.

The world is a global village

Connecting with anyone around the world has become so easy and technology makes that happen. It is only right to say, we would not have been able to do so much in so little time had technology not moved forward and given us the possibilities, the fruits of which we bear, at present.

Of course, there are many other essential tasks which we would not have been able to accomplish without technology. Had it not been for Zoom and Office tools like Microsoft Teams, connecting with everyone at work on the same platform would be difficult. It gives you a feeling of working in a virtual office space. It goes without saying that many of us yearn to go back to work in a real office but at the same time we cannot ignore the pivotal role of technology in our ability to contribute productively, even within the confines of our homes.

It reminds me of a quote by Bill Gates, Co-founder of Microsoft:

The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don't really even notice it, so it's part of everyday life.

Bill Gates

Co-founder, Microsoft