ZEISS apps with ophthalmological know-how for use at home
Interview with Eric Nehrbass | Head of Online Technologies at ZEISS Vision Care
In the same place where state-of-the-art leading instruments such as digital phoropters, ophthalmological platforms and ultra-precise eyeglass lens designs are developed, experts at ZEISS also design digital products for healthy and clear vision in everyday life. The team at ZEISS Vision Care explains the challenges presented by this dual role and how these challenges are overcome, taking the ZEISS Online Vision Screening app as an example. The digital product cannot take the place of a visit to a specialist optician's store, but it can help to identify changes in eyesight and then establish contact with a local eye care professional.
The ZEISS Online Vision Screening can easily check five testing areas of eyesight from home or on-the-go. What was the starting point of the product development?
The development of every product must have a clear objective right at the outset. In the case of the ZEISS Online Vision Screening, the objective was the development of what is called an "engagement tool" for consumers. We therefore asked the question: How can we make people aware of the need for an eye test by an optician? How can we involve consumers? How must we make a test of this nature in such a way that people lacking specialist knowledge can conduct the test? We therefore centered the development around the users. People were key when answering important initial questions such as: How is the product to be structured, which tests make sense, how should the sequence of tests look, how should instructions be formulated and structured visually, and what do we learn from the experiences we could gather with the former, successful Online Vision Screening?
In addition, a digital product has, of course, a different technical framework to those of the ultra-precise instruments in an optician's store. That, too, had to be included in the thinking right from the start. We developed an engagement tool which familiarizes people with the subject and provides preliminary indications of potential deteriorations in their eyesight.
How was ophthalmological know-how reconciled with the digital product and use by consumers?
Even though no expert uses the app, we can still make use of certain tests which comply with international standards. For example, we use the Landolt C for visual acuity and contrast sensitivity. Color vision is tested using a standard clinical test in which figures are presented in confusion colors. We must, of course, establish in advance which tests actually work. And the users need very good instructions. Otherwise, the app won't work. We can't check that during the tests. At the same time using the app should be fun. The entire interface must be structured in such a way that the demanding expectations of the user experience are met.
Then it's all about measuring and testing. We follow the principle of "build - measure - learn" – and improve in our work. There is no such thing as the finished app which has materialized in some quiet back room on a given day. We start off with a few functions, let different groups of people test it and look carefully for where there might be further potential. For example, can we expect users to calibrate the screen using a credit card? (Yes). The next step was to make a prototype available on a test market: build, measure, learn - and optimize. Even when the final version has been rolled out, the user data will tell us where further potential for optimization can be found. A further important point is that new technologies can make new forms of tests possible.
The challenges therefore revolve around anticipating consumer behavior and technical framework. What role does the market play?
The product development starts with the consumer needs and the market requirements - and the market is huge if we consider the vast number of consumers, mobile devices, browsers, operating systems and so on. To consider all these requirements the knowledge and experiences of our experts from different corporate departments are extremely important. Future developments will also have to consider the technology and sensors etc. with which the individual devices are equipped. And what these could be used for.
Has all this also changed the way of working?
Yes, the project management here looks quite different from that for classic hardware development. Diversity and agility are essential if first-rate and globally applicable results are to be achieved. Therefore, many experts from different fields have to get together - experts with the widest possible range of knowledge drawn from ophthalmology, project management, marketing, UX design, software development, data protection, academia and other areas. The range is huge - and we are scattered far and wide, in different parts of Germany as well as further afield. But we work together in agile teams and use such methods as scrum.
What benefits have been achieved for consumers as well as for eye care specialists through the product development?
The prime benefit is that the app provides a simple first step in learning something about your own eyesight and potential problems. At the end of the ZEISS Online Vision Screening the user is always told where he or she can find the nearest optician. Users therefore are sensitized and have received an "early warning" about their eyesight - something which is a perfect starting point for the consultation with an expert. This is then immediately more customized and targeted to the individual's needs. In an ideal case, time is also saved, which is an advantage for all concerned.
Online research before making decisions or before purchasing something is becoming increasingly important in all areas of consumers' daily lives. We have been observing this for years, especially in the "Better Vision" section of our ZEISS Vision Care website. Here we offer tips and advice on everyday questions regarding eye care and vision. Here the ZEISS Online Vision Screening makes an important contribution and is already by far the most clicked page in the ZEISS Vision Care web worldwide.
We see that apps are becoming increasingly popular in the healthcare sector. A German study showed that 63% of the app users surveyed stated that they are better informed about their body and health as a result of health-related apps.1 Thus if the gradual process of the deterioration of eyesight is discovered by a simple online test which can be subsequently checked by an eye care professional, this must be a great advantage. The skilled correction of visual impairments and active screening of eye health contribute to the maintenance of good eyesight over a long period and the ability to recognize and treat possible impairments at an early stage.
1 Source: https://www.bitkom-research.de/system/files/document/Pr%C3%A4sentation_DigitalHealth2020.pdf // Population of 909 smartphone users over 16 years of age in Germany