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French eye doctors set their sights on bringing their mobile clinic to isolated rural areas

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A patient completes a visual exam, conducted by an orthoptist, in a truck dedicated to tele-ophthalmology in Rochefort-sur-Loire on December 9, 2021.
A patient completes a visual exam, conducted by an orthoptist, in a truck dedicated to tele-ophthalmology in Rochefort-sur-Loire on December 9, 2021.   -   Copyright  JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP
By Aisling Ní Chúláin  & AFP

Eye doctors have found a novel solution to address a shortage of ophthalmologists in France, particularly in rural areas.

They have packed up their equipment, loaded into the “TOM” lorry - short for “mobile tele ophthalmology” - and are taking their service on the road, criss-crossing countryside villages that have no private ophthalmologists.

Under the “TOM” initiative, an orthoptist is dispatched with the lorry to carry out the exam in person and afterwards an ophthalmologist consults with the patient via teleconference.

An orthoptist is an expert in treating defects in eye movement and binocular vision whereas an ophthalmologist is a medically trained doctor specialised in eye injuries and disease.

“The observation is simple: the average, if I don’t say anything stupid, in ophthalmology is 57. So there is a huge shortage in this speciality,” Maximilien Courtois, the co-founder of the TOM company, explained.

We have to set limits in this system. There are limits and be careful not to ... screens everywhere, all appointments through a screen, all digital no! Even less so for the medical sector!
Marylène Marie
Patient

“It’s not going to get any better with people going on retirement. It won't be resolved for a long time. There are areas where there are no ophthalmologists and there will be none left".

So far, patients have been impressed with the convenience and professionalism of the service even if they remain wary of screens becoming the primary interface for medical consultations.

"It's fine, and there's a human touch. The orthoptist is very nice, there's a nice bond. We have a new appointment and we'll see the same person. So it's all good”, said TOM patient, Marylène Marie.

“But we have to set limits in this system. There are limits and be careful not to ... screens everywhere, all appointments through a screen, all digital no! Even less so for the medical sector!"

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Mathilde Godon