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Belill Color Vision Interview

Question: Could you describe your main color vision service?

Dr. Belill: The main color version service we have is a computerized color vision testing device, which is tablet-based, that can measure color vision to help us determine if there is an active eye disease process that is damaging the color vision nerve either in the eyes or the brain.

Question: What's the device's name?

Dr. Belill: It's called the Rabin Cone Contrast Test

Question: What kinds of patients use the test?

Dr. Belill: Any patient can get the test if:

  • They have age-related eye diseases like glaucoma.
  • They are taking certain medications that can damage the nerves. The most common one is called Plaquenil which is a medicine that's commonly prescribed for rheumatological diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It can damage color vision.
  • We suspect the patient has neurologic related vision problems. In other words, they have some sort of brain base disease that's affecting their color vision nerves

Question: How do you use this information? Do you send it to their practitioner? Do you treat them directly?

Dr. Belill: We use this information for treatment if it's just strictly an eye based problem. Then, I just use the information myself and communicate the results to the patient. But, if we're looking for toxic effects of medications then we'll communicate that information back to their prescribing doctor, which could be their family doctor, their primary doctor or it could be a specialist like a rheumatologist, who is commonly the one who prescribes medicine for arthritis and lupus.

If we're suspicious that their visual findings are due to a brain disorder like multiple sclerosis or a brain tumor then we'd communicate that information back to their primary doctor, and they take over to decide whether or not they order further testing. They may refer the patient to another specialist like a neurologist to come to a diagnosis.

Question: When it comes to color vision tests, would you say that the main thing is that this test is available for referring doctors, or do you think that this is a test that people can also look for? For example, Air Force pilots or military can request this?

Dr. Belill: The most common use would be for referring doctors, and not necessarily for somebody just calling and saying, “Give me that color vision test.”

The secondary use for color vision testing is for military screening.

In that aspect, many people aren't born with the proper set of color vision nerves in their eyes. They are born with an abnormal color vision. We can run these tests on them to confirm whether or not the color vision they have is adequate to meet the criteria to become a pilot in the military. That seems to be the main job title that requires sufficient color vision.

I mean, if people wanted to be a soldier on the front line, they couldn't really care what their color vision is. For those people, we're not suspecting they have a disease. There's just a hereditary thing they were born with. It's usually something where people are referred to us by either a military recruiting office or the company that owns the device. Sometimes applicants end up contacting the manufacturer directly and saying they were told by a recruiting office that they need to have this test. And then, the company will direct them to wherever the closest office to their home.

Last time we checked, we were the only office within at least about a four-hour radius that had the color vision test. We had a young man who drove from Ohio from four hours away to here in Michigan to have the test. Thankfully, he passed barely. So, we were able to give him a report that he met the criteria to be able to enter the Army and become a pilot.

Question:  Does it make sense that someone can take the test twice and get different results?

Dr. Belill: No. I actually ran it twice on him, and they came out the same.