Meet Google Impact Challenge Winner Dr William Yan of “Vision At Home”

Update 26 Oct ’16: William’s project has WON the Google Impact Challenge! Thank you to everyone who voted and showed your support for bringing eye testing to remote and mobility-challenged communities. Congratulations William and CERA! 
Dr William Yan and his team at the Centre for Eye Research Australia are finalists in this year’s Google Impact Challenge. Their project, Vision At Home, is an algorithm-based software that accurately tests visual acuity (eyesight) via webcam at home. Vision at Home helps rural, remote and mobility-impaired users access easy-to-use, high-quality testing through feature recognition, particularly in rural areas with little or no access to ophthalmologists. There is scope for Ishihara (colour blindness testing) and visual field testing to be added to this evidence-based software.
Will shared with us his journey from surgical residency to PhD candidate to Google award finalist.
Dr William Yan, Surgical resident and Ophthalmology PhD candidate. Pic courtesy of Will Yan.
Dr William Yan, Surgical resident and Ophthalmology PhD candidate. Pic courtesy of Will Yan.
What was the inspiration for Vision At Home?
Vision At Home was inspired by the Australian health gap, and how technology has already changed our lives in so many ways. Less than 1% of eye specialists work in remote Australia, but almost all these areas have access to the internet. Time is not on our side to bring changes in infrastructure to remote Australia, given its size and vastness, so telemedicine is a shortcut and means of bridging the gap sooner.
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What has been your pathway through medicine so far?
I’m a second year Surgical resident from Melbourne – I knew I wanted to do more after internship and be a bit creative. I’ve always had research supervisors who’ve inspired, challenged and supported me. This year, I spent six months overseas working on several projects together with my PhD. The background to this was always finding interesting topics to start and run short projects on throughout medical school.
To be honest, I haven’t always known I wanted to do ophthalmology but I have always had an interest in eyes. My vision was saved by ophthalmologists growing up but there were so many different specialties in medicine that I wanted to try for myself before deciding on a career. I spent time at the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital, Melbourne in my final year of medical school, which was a real highlight. I really enjoyed my experience and seeing the impact of the work. I’ve met a lot of really inspiring, humble clinicians and innovators in ophthalmology – it’s a culture I really like.
How has your research helped you and your team create a healthcare program with global impact?
Being enrolled as a postgraduate research student opens up a lot of doors and opportunities. For starters, it positions you to have close relationships with outstanding academics and leaders, and to be involved with creative discussions, ideas exchanges, and to learn about how the gears turn outside of clinical medicine. Additionally, you’re eligible for support from the University in the form of grants, workshops, exchanges and project seed funding.
How have your mentors and supervisors helped you along the way? 
Through hearing what people are working on at CERA, what they’ve achieved and some of the big questions being asked. It’s been a privilege working with Prof. Mingguang He from Melbourne University, and Prof. Robert Chang from Stanford as part of the Vision at Home team, who’ve become my mentors and role models.
How long has it taken from idea to now to form Vision At Home?
Vision at Home has taken nearly two years to translate. Right now we are on the cusp of delivering it to Australian communities as a tool to improve access and establish a national vision screening program/platform. In 3 years, with Google’s support we will reach 100,000 people through Australian homes, clinics, hospitals and schools and over 500,000 people in developing countries where 90% of the world’s vision impaired reside. To get this project into the hands of everyone who needs it, we need support and votes! We’re giving people a tool to save sight, and empowering them to see tomorrow.
To vote for Will and CERA’s project, visit Australia’s Google Impact Challenge website by clicking the banner below.  
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