Dr Claudine Pang is a veteran specialist of the eye aka ophthalmologist at the Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre, which she founded earlier this year.
Her passion for caring for people’s eyes motivated her to become a retinal eye specialist and that same passion also encouraged her to develop an app.
The app by the Asia Retina Eye Centre walks users through some simple questionnaires to determine if they have an eye condition that requires to see an ophthalmologist.
For that, we spoke to Dr Claudine Pang to find out more.
When was the Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre founded and why did you decide to set up your private practice?
Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre was founded officially in March 2018, although it was conceptualised one year before that. I wanted to set up a retinal-centric eye clinic because as a retinal eye specialist, I have a great passion for retinal diseases, retinal surgery and educating people about retinal awareness. I’ve discovered in my 15 years as an ophthalmologist that many people are not aware of the importance of our retina as the house of our visual receptors. Motivated to educate people about the retina and its critical role in our visual pathway, I created Asia Retina as a one-stop Centre to treat all eye diseases, with a special focus on the retina. I hoped to be able to provide patients with truly customised and attentive eye care, in addition to empowering them with simple tips to maintain their eye wellness.
Were your loved ones supportive of you exiting the public health care system because it’s perceived to be more stable though busier?
Yes, I had the support of my family and friends, because they understand my passion for doctoring, which to me embodies the idealism of treating patients both medically and emotionally. I thrive on building unique relationships with my patients, which takes time and is not always possible in a public hospital setting. My decision to leave the public sector was not based on how stable or busy it was. Mainly I wanted to be able to afford quality time with every patient so that they could experience truly personalised and holistic care from their eye doctor; the way doctoring was meant to be. In fact, contrary to what most people think, the private sector is even busier than public sector because I’m fully committed to seeing patients even after office hours, and there is no handing off to another doctor as in the public sector. Even when I’m on leave, I’m still responsible for all my patients, and I always come back to see them if they have any urgent issues.
For every new business, the start is always turbulent. What was it like for you when you started your centre?
Starting the new business, the biggest challenge was having to invest in all the eye equipment. In the field of ophthalmology, having state-of-the-art equipment is so vital because better machines allow us to make more accurate diagnoses and administer better treatments. I wanted my one-stop centre to be able to provide patients with such cutting-edge technology so that they have access to all the necessary treatment options at their convenience.
Another challenge was finding the perfect team of dedicated and competent individuals who share my vision of providing fully committed and conscientious eye care to all patients. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work with some of the best nurses and optometrists who were happy to start this clinic together.
What are the differences between being a specialist in the public and private sector? Also, as a doctor becoming an entrepreneur?
In the public sector, there is very little time to get to know patients or delve into their lifestyle, habits and personal issues. Very often, I find these emotional aspects affect a patient’s health, well-being and also affects their surgical outcome. In private practice, I can afford the time to understand my patients, their concerns and solve their issues at the root of their problem.
I think being an entrepreneur, it is easy to get caught up in the financial constraints and worries, which could potentially be a source of conflict for a doctor. When I started this company, I enforced on myself stringent rules that I must never let such issues affect my doctoring. As such, I invested in a financial and operations team for my company so that I can leave all of the financial decisions to someone else and concentrate 100% on my patients’ wellbeing.
We often see health materials in the media on diabetes, dementia and cancer but we don’t see much of eye. So business-wise, it might seem as though there’s no demand for knowing the eye. So what triggered the idea of developing a mobile application for The Eye (may wish to talk about the common eye conditions prevalent in Singaporeans)?
Everyone seems to have heard about going for regular dental check-ups to clean their teeth, routine general health screening to detect diabetes, regular cancer screening etc., however, there are little words about going for regular eye screening. My objective of creating the Asia Retina App is to make people more aware about the need to go for routine eye screening (at least once a year). Most people are unaware that cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and myopia-related retinal diseases are the leading causes of blindness in Singapore. Many of these eye conditions have little to no symptoms at their early state and tend to progress in the late stage to irreversible visual loss. It is thus imperative to detect them early at regular eye check-ups so that they can be treated early to prevent blindness.
What were the challenges you faced when developing the Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre’s app?
During development of the Asia Retina App, there were some expected technical issues including slow download speeds that required multiple fixes and updates. We also wanted to be able to set phone reminder alerts to remind patients to put their eye drops as prescribed, a feature that required multiple tweaks in the eyedrop dropdown options. Currently, we are at our tenth updated app, and it has been functioning smoothly without problems.
Can you share with us the tests that people can by themselves using the mobile app and if there’s an issue, how can they seek medical consultation?
The App has four self-assessment eye tests including testing of visual acuity, colour vision, macular function and dry eye questionnaire. The visual acuity test allows the user to assess whether they can read small letters. The colour vision assesses for the red-green colour deficiency. The macular grid assesses for metamorphopsia (which is abnormal waviness of usually straight lines). And lastly, the dry eye questionnaire assesses the users’ likelihood of having dry eyes through a series of dry-eye related symptoms and questions. If at any point, the user feels that his/her vision might be compromised, they can immediately schedule an appointment to see an eye doctor through the app easily.
What’s next for Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre and the app?
I hope to roll out new features for the Asia Retina App including additional eye tests and chatbot functions in future. As for Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre, it has always been a personal dream to be able to reach out to other less privileged communities and provide eye care services catered to their needs. This year in June 2018, our entire Asia Retina Team travelled to Cambodia to provide vision screening, eyedrops and spectacles to the needy villagers. By doing such yearly missions, I hope to make humanitarian work a recurrent theme as part of our goal to provide quality eye care to local as well as foreign communities.