Using an iPhone for remote medical diagnosis
Technology is amazing. Chances are you’re reading this on a mobile phone or tablet but even more amazing than that is how you can use those devices to give you an advantage in addressing medical issues for your animals. Last year Valentine had a potentially serious corneal ulcer in his right eye. Eye injuries like this usually start out as just a scratch – it was probably dumb luck, like a piece of hay poking his eye at just the right angle as he dove his head into a big round bale. It’s amazing that kind of thing doesn’t happen more often. Although we see our horses pretty regularly, by the time we noticed him squinting, it had probably already been a few days since he scratched the eye and an infection had set in. Valentine was a trooper as we put on some triple antibiotic eye ointment. It seemed better after a couple of days so we stopped treatment and figured it had healed. This turned out to be a mistake. A friend noticed him squinting again and sure enough, the irritation was back. At this point, we knew it might be more than a minor scratch so the next step was seeking a professional opinion. That’s where the iPhone comes in.
As patient as Valentine was with us putting ointment in his eye, he didn’t much care to hold still for 10 seconds while we tried to take a picture of his eye. He didn’t know what we were up to as we kept moving this hand-sized block around in front of his face so I can’t blame him for being nervous about it. That’s when I remembered that my new (at the time) iPhone 6 had a slow-motion video capture feature that could be useful. At 240 fps (frames per second), using slow-motion mode did a pretty good job of letting us take several seconds of video, slowing them down on the phone and capturing a screenshot in the millisecond when his eye was open and his head wasn’t moving around. We could then text that screenshot to our horse vet who was able to give a preliminary diagnosis. All we needed to know was whether or not it was serious and if she should come out to our barn right away.
In this case, it turned out to be serious enough to warrant a visit. The photo below, also taken from an iPhone 6, is a still shot we were able to get after the doc applied Fluorescein to his eye. (Fluorescein is a stain that gets sucked into scratches and the like to make them more visible.) It looks a little gross in the photo but in it you can easily see the ulcer (which at this point was pretty visible, stain or no).
Valentine’s treatment lasted about six weeks and it wasn’t simple. For the first week or so we had to treat his eye every four hours, which meant we set an alarm and got up a few times in the night. It was like having a newborn – except you had to get up, get dressed and walk outside in the cold. He was kept in the barn to facilitate this but also because some of the treatment required that his eyes were dilated with atropine so we had to protect him from bright light. Poor Valentine had to endure serum (made from his own blood), OptiMend and antibiotic ointment, all applied directly to his eye. He did seem to enjoy the horse treats we gave him as a reward. After the intensive treatment period, we were able to (thankfully) go down to every twelve hours. I think he ran from the barn when the six weeks was up. We walked him periodically for exercise but who wants to live in a barn for six weeks? I would have done a happy dance on the way out.
The lesson here is to check your horses often, don’t let eye injuries go, and get creative with early diagnosis by using your phone as a medical communication device.