ZEISS: You diagnose patients who are many miles away – Do you feel that the personal touch is missing?
Dr. Aline de Araujo: No, I don’t see this as a problem. I think one can help someone on camera. I also think telemedicine offers many benefits in a country like Brazil.
ZEISS: What would you say the benefits are?
de Araujo: We are improving access to medical care for poor people, particularly in areas where ophthalmologists are few and far between. The lack of treatment options here can destroy people’s entire lives and make it impossible for them to go to work and even lead a normal life – just because they can’t see very well. Telemedicine also allows me to treat more patients than I would at a practice. Despite the waiting list, we can see patients more quickly than we would under the public health system. Currently, people don’t have to wait more than two months for an appointment. The waiting time used to be 19 months before.
ZEISS: Are there any drawbacks?
de Araujo: Yes. The technology does put some people off; they feel threatened by it. I’m very tech-savvy. But this cultural hurdle is one that particularly people without a computer at home have to contend with. People who certainly aren’t digital natives.
ZEISS: There are many poor people in Brazil; the country is in the midst of an economic crisis.
de Araujo: Sad but true. The development of a nascent middle class has stopped in its tracks. Unemployment has resulted in many people losing their private health insurance, which granted them access to healthcare. So it’s even more important that we help these people.
ZEISS: Can you use telemedicine to help with all ophthalmological problems?
de Araujo: No. If a patient is suffering from a serious eye disease, we immediately refer them to a specialist. We focus on correcting vision impairments due to refractive errors.
ZEISS: How easy has it been to work with the technology?
de Araujo: The ZEISS systems optimize our work and make us more efficient. The fact that they’re networked speeds up our day-to-day operations.
ZEISS: How did you approach this new concept?
de Araujo: ZEISS trained us. The nine medical colleagues from the program and I can ask for further assistance as needed. We are well looked-after!
ZEISS: Have there been any success stories as yet?
de Araujo: Here in Rio Grande do Sul, we’ve helped more than 8,000 people see clearly once again. If you ask me, every single one of them is a success story. Better vision is the key to a happier life.