The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 3 million people in the U.S. have glaucoma, the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide.
But what worries ophthalmologists like Jesse Richman of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, more is how uninformed the public often is.
The Spaeth/Richman Contrast Sensitivity test, or SPARCS test, aims to change that.
“It’s shocking how many people have an eye disease and don’t even know they have it,” Richman said. “The original idea for this was to make a test that was relatively inexpensive, was easy for a person to do and wouldn’t require the need to be able to do it in a traditional office setting.”
The free online test is available at sparcscontrastcenter.com. For the past decade, it has been used in clinical trials in academic institutions across the U.S. and abroad in places like Italy, India and Brazil.
But the SPARCS test has gained more attention in recent weeks due to the quarantine. As doctors shift to telehealth, the test can help eye physicians monitor their patients’ health remotely.
“With the coronavirus happening, everything in life has changed, including eye care,” Richman said. “So we’ve retooled our tests to basically make it so people could take the test from their home.”
The test takes less than five minutes and requires no reading. Instead, participants look at a gray screen and click any parts where a stripped image has appeared. Only one eye is tested at a time, and it’s recommended to be taken on a large-screened device in a room with normal lighting.
While the test can’t diagnose a specific condition, it can uncover if a person is experiencing vision problems. It’s recommended that people coordinate with their doctors before taking the test in order to share the results and to arrange an in-person appointment if problems are uncovered.
Richman grew up in Elkins Park and lives in Cherry Hill, where his family belongs to Temple Beth Sholom. After earning his M.D. at Jefferson Medical College, he made a career for himself as an ophthalmologist and cataract and glaucoma surgeon.
Notable accomplishments include being the first ophthalmologist in Delaware to implant the iStent trabecular micro-bypass stent to reduce a patient’s intraocular pressure from glaucoma. He also designed a single-step toric marker to reduce astigmatism in cataract surgeries.
Richman first got involved with the SPARCS test while working in the Glaucoma Fellowship at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. There he met world-renowned glaucoma specialist George Spaeth.
Throughout his career, Spaeth has been troubled by the number of undiagnosed glaucoma cases
“We have this absolutely intolerable situation in which a few people who have money and education end up finding out there’s something wrong with them, and then they get it taken care of,” he said. “Whereas the overwhelming majority of people never even find out there’s something wrong with them. Why is that? Well, how are they going to find out? They have to go to a doctor’s office. And that costs money and it takes time. It’s inconvenient.”
So a decade ago he set out to design a tool that would be quick, clear and simple and that anybody, regardless of money, could assess. He recruited Richman to help research the science and his son Eric to program and design the site. So far, more than 5,000 people have taken the test.
Eric Spaeth said while the website gets the job done, he’s hoping to attract support from organizations like the World Health Organization to use the tool and contribute to the project’s growth and development. They’ve created the test on a shoestring budget and he’d like for a bigger team to “take it to the next level.”
His father hopes the SPARCS test will put people’s health monitoring into their own hands.
“No system of medical care anywhere is ever going to be effective until it’s based on people taking care of themselves well,” George Spaeth said. “If you wait until people are sick, and they have to go to an expensive office to get diagnosed, it’s already too late. It’s too expensive.”
[email protected]; 215-832-0751