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University can’t produce vision study that it promotes worldwide in news release

Can an iPad Help You See?

Our Review Summary

Senior man with a tablet computerThis news release from Montreal’s Concordia University focuses on a research study showing that seniors with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) may be able to use iPad tablet computers to help them read, instead of buying more expensive vision aids. We value the cost-conscious and practical nature of this study, but we believe the release falls short by omitting comparative costs between the tablets and other vision aids, and neglecting to reference any published study data where anyone could examine the claims. When we contacted the institution that issued the release we were told it was unlikely there was a published study available but the researcher would get back to us if one was. We’re still waiting.

 

Why This Matters

A growing percentage of the population are elderly and likely to have vision impairments of some kind. AMD, which occurred in about half of this small (100 volunteers) study group, is a common eye condition and a leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older, according to the National Eye Institute. It causes damage to the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina and the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision. The research upon which this news release is based might point toward a way to help people to continue reading and participating while using less-expensive aids, with less stigma.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

We are glad to learn, as the release points out, that there may be a less expensive option for seniors needing vision aids, but we were disappointed that the release did not give any actual costs. The newest iPad models range in cost from about $260 to more than $400, depending on the features. However, people can buy used ones for far less money. Some of popular iPad competitors cost around $100 on Amazon.

The release states only this as far as cost: “Enter the iPad: a technological device that’s relatively cheap.” We would have rather seen the release give us the actual cost of one of the “expensive” devices and then compare it to the typical cost of an iPad. We also think the release could have mentioned other tablet devices, rather than focusing on one brand. For some people, expensive devices may be covered by an insurance provider, while less expensive ones are not. This complicates the cost to an individual. It was good to see a brief mention to reimbursement issues in the release.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The short release does not quantify benefits in a way that is easy for us to understand. It promises a comparison of the seniors reading “quality” on an iPad with the same patients reading on a different device. Here is an excerpt: “The researchers used questionnaires and tests to gauge participants’ visual ability, and then compared the Apple iPad versus two traditionally used magnification devices, to see if reading rates varied across devices.” But we are never given a true apples to apples number for how many of the readers showed better or equal visual ability on the iPads compared to their ability on other devices. We are told it is “unsurprising” that about one-quarter (25) of the 100 volunteers could read magnified text better whether using an iPad or two other magnification devices. What were the other devices? How large was the magnification?

The release did quantify one benefit, namely it said that study volunteers who had previous experience reading on an iPad or closed circuit television system (CCTV) device could read 30 words faster than those trying the iPad for the first time. This seems like a side observation, not entirely relevant to the central issue of comparing iPads and more expensive alternative devices.

The release also cited social acceptance of the iPad as a benefit. People are seen carrying their portable devices everywhere and so an older person seen using their tablet as a reading aid won’t draw attention to their age-related vision impairment. It would have been nice to see some quantification of this benefit, even if it was drawn from a survey of the volunteers.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The release didn’t address harms but we’re not aware of any associated with assistive reading devices.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The release did not provide any link to a published paper about the research being described. This limited our ability to assess the evidence claim. The release says a study was done of 100 participants, ages 24 to 97. Excerpt: “The researchers used questionnaires and tests to gauge participants’ visual ability, and then compared the Apple iPad versus two traditionally used magnification devices, to see if reading rates varied across devices.” In general, a study that relies on self-reports from participants has limitations due to the variability of what participants report. They’re subjective. We also aren’t told which “tests” were used and what the outcomes were.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There is no disease mongering in the release. It provides an accurate overview of how often age-related vision loss occurs.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The release names several sources of funding.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The release compares using a widely available consumer device to using more traditional and more expensive devices. We’ll give them a Satisfactory for naming the CCTV device but we’re never told what the other alternative magnification device was, although the release often refers to two traditional alternatives. We also would have liked some comparative prices and inclusion of other brands besides the Apple brand.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

It’s common knowledge that consumer tablet computers are widely available so we’ll rate this Not Applicable.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

It is novel to suggest that expensive and traditional vision aids can be replaced with a common and cheaper alternative. The release makes that claim with this phrase, “…the first experimental evidence that the Apple iPad is as good as technology traditionally used in reading rehabilitation for individuals with visual impairment.”

As stated earlier, we wish the release had provided a link to the actual research study so we could assess the findings. Based on the release contents, the research finding itself is not much of a surprise. Many of us already know that you can increase the font size in order to read better on almost any computer device.

Total Score: 5 of 8 Satisfactory

Comments (2)

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Jennifer Edgar

April 1, 2016 at 11:52 am

The other devices that the study was referring were probably video magnification devices, some times referred to as CCTVs.. There typically cost $2000-$4500. Much more expensive then an iPad. However and iPad is more expensive then a hand held magnifier, but then one of those, with the appropriate power, may only let a very limited amount of a picture or text into view, perhaps a few letters at a time. They can be frustrating to the user when trying to read/view a large quantity of information. Whereas an iPad would give the user the entire screen. In addition on the iPad their are apps that are available to convert printed material into digital OCR PDFs which then the user can read with the magnification or have read to them with voiceover. As for other tablet on the market there is no comparison on the accessibility features that they offer compared to the built in features that come on an iPad.
-Jen (Certified Teacher of Students who are Visually Impaired/Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists.)

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Stephen Waller

April 2, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Thanks for holding the authors to an appropriately high standard. If the research is a high school science fair submission, so be it. Just don’t spin it as national or international news.

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