Myopia, device dependency, gaming addiction, cyberbullying and lack of outdoor activity are just some of the serious consequences resulting from the ever-increasing reliance of children on digital technology.

Addressing these problems entails raising awareness about the pitfalls of excessive device use and empowering children with the knowledge on how to develop responsible relationships with technology. The Plano Adventures children’s book series breaks new ground in this global conversation.

Education and awareness through a bestselling children’s book series

One of the biggest challenges of any education and awareness campaign is selecting the medium which is best suited to engage the target audience. At Plano, we figured, what better way to convey our message to children than through the magic of illustrated books!

I wanted to work with people who are experienced in the early chapter book genre and who would be able to deliver information on eye health and responsible screen use in a fun and engaging narrative that all children will enjoy. I assembled a team of award-winning creatives, author Hwee Goh and illustrator David Liew, and together, we successfully produced the five-book series, The Plano Adventures.

The books

Stories from The Plano Adventures series are based on scientific research and were written with the aim of educating and empowering children to take responsibility for their own device use.

The series takes young readers into the world of Professor Plano and his young sidekicks, Zed and Zee. The trio works together to battle it out with the antagonist of the series, Lord Myopic, as he wreaks havoc on the citizens and creatures of magical towns. The series comprises 5 books, each of which is dedicated to one theme relevant to the dangers of devices.

Book 1: Trouble in Murktown

Trouble in Murktown is about myopia and its association with excessive screen time.

The first book introduces young readers to Lord Myopic, who is determined to cover Murktown in a fog and take control of its people using the Bottle-Bottle screens he had invented. Children also get their first look at the hero of the story, Professor Plano, who is on his way to pick up his Clear Vision potion. It is at this moment that he meets the twins, Zed and Zee. The trio soon realises that they hold the key to defeat Lord Myopic.

Book 2: The Ray Keepers

The Ray Keepers highlights the importance of outdoor activities.

In this book, the trio is on their way to meet the Ray Keepers who live at Rainbow’s Edge. They hope that the Ray Keepers can help them find out which Light is good for Clear Vision. However, when they reach Rainbow’s Edge, they come across a flight of sickly dragons who have been using the Bottle-Bottle screens created by Lord Myopic. Together with the Ray Keepers, the trio works against time to save the dragons.

Book 3: The Never-ending Game

The Never-ending Game educates children about the harmful effects of gaming addiction and how to tackle it.

Professor Plano and the twins visit Nettown, a place where every child is hooked on a game invented by Lord Myopic. Fortunately, with the help of the Clear Vision Recipe, Professor Plano figures out how to wean everyone off the addictive game and stop Lord Myopic from becoming more powerful.

Book 4: Attack of the Cybugs

The Attack of the Cybugs deals with cyberbullying.

The book begins with the trio learning about The Wood Wide Web, a town infested with creatures known as cybugs. These creatures bully residents via nasty emails and words, and target children who use the Clear Vision Recipe. The trio quickly realises that Lord Myopic is behind this attack and decide to visit the town to help its residents. Once they arrive at the town, they encourage each resident to stand up for themselves and drive their bullies out using the fourth ingredient of the Clear Vision Recipe, MyPower.

Book 5: Out of Order

Out of order is about device dependency and how children can protect themselves against it.

The final book of the series begins with the trio hot on the trail of Lord Myopic. They have arrived in Lord Myopic’s dreamworld – a town where everything runs on machines. People talk to each other only on their devices and the entire town is run by robots. When the weary robots decide to go on a strike, the residents of the town are at a loss. With the help of the Clear Vision Recipe, the trio works out how to help the residents become less dependent on their devices and the robots.

The Clear Vision Recipe

The underlying call to action in each book in the series is for children to remember and adopt Professor Plano’s Clear Vision Recipe, which is made up of recommendations on healthy device use and eye care habits based on the latest scientific literature. They are:

1. Scoops of good distance: Use smartphones and tablets at a distance of 30cm from your eyes

2. Dashes of eye breaks: Take eye breaks after 30 minutes of using smart devices

3. Heaps of time outdoors: Spend at least two to three hours every day outdoors

4. MyPower: Be responsible for your actions. It is up to you to follow and adopt these recommendations every day.

My team and I thought that the best way to present these recommendations was in the form of a child-friendly recipe. In this way, we empower each of our young readers with the knowledge of how the recommendations work to protect their overall wellbeing.

The Plano Adventures is available in all major bookstores in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Singapore. The books are also available for online orders worldwide on Amazon.

Myopia is the leading cause of visual impairment in children and excessive near work is one of the most important environmental risk factors for the onset and progression of myopia.

In this technology-dependent age, screen-based activities constitute a new form of near-work. As the age at which our children are exposed to smartphones and tablets gets younger and their duration of uninterrupted periods of screen time gets longer, there is a clear imperative to develop early interventions that help to protect our children’s vision from the harmful effects of screens.

Battling myopia in a digitised world

As I always say, technology itself is not the problem, but what needs to be addressed is our reliant relationship with technology. At Plano, we saw an opportunity to flip the problem into the solution. That is exactly why we developed plano, a parental management mobile application which is designed to reduce myopia-related risk factors, including excessive screen time and lack of outdoor activity, and empower healthier device usage in children from an early age.

plano achieves this through a combination of science-based eye health features and child-safety functions including a face-to-screen distance tracker, digital eye health and progress reports, an app blocker and remote screen locking.

How the plano app works

1. Eye health prompts

The app runs in the background of smart devices, sending friendly alerts and reminders that promote good eye care practices. What is unique to plano is the use of science-based eye health prompts which work to modify children’s device use habits.

For instance, plano’s face-to-screen prompts ensure that children comply with the recommended smartphone viewing distance of at least 30cm away from their eyes.

plano app’s face-to-screen distance prompt

Eye break prompts which are triggered after 30 minutes of continuous device use as well as spectacle detection prompts (which appear when children who use spectacles are not wearing them) also serve to cultivate good device use and eye health habits from an early age.

2. The plano Shop

While the prompts are a good first step to kickstart the process of behaviour change, we wanted the app to be able to incentivise long-term behaviour change. We hence created a points- and rewards-based system within the app to achieve two objectives, namely, to reinforce children’s good device use and to encourage them to engage in device-free outdoor activity, an important protective measure against myopia.

Children earn ‘plano points’ every time they follow and comply with the reminders which they can use to request exclusive activities from the plano Shop, which parents can approve and purchase. In this way, the in-app rewards platform effectively encourages children to want to be actively involved in their own vision care journey.

3. Parental control functions

When developing plano, we recognised the importance of giving parents the ability to monitor their children’s device use, even if they are not physically there to keep an eye on them. As such, we included a suite of parental control functions in the app.

plano app’s app blocker, device time scheduling, and remote locking functions

4. Plano Eyecheck *only available in Singapore

We also wanted the app to serve as a platform to get children into optometry and to close the loop for eye care service delivery in Singapore and the rest of the world. We designed Plano Eyecheck, an in-app referral system to do just that.

Parents are prompted with in-app reminders when their children are due for an eye examination. The platform then connects parents to their nearest optometrist and allows them to locate, book, and manage appointments for a variety of eye care services. *Parents can also access Plano Eyecheck online.

More than just an app

Plano is an eye health ecosystem that includes more than just the plano app. With plano Eyecheck and our educational and eye health promotion work, we aim to go beyond acting as a parental control tool, and to truly put eye health on the map.

Our journey first began in the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) – Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) Incubator programme. From the app’s humble beginnings in Singapore less than 3 years ago to now, the team’s passion and vision has propelled plano to be launched worldwide and to be adopted by more than 250,000 households.

Like it or not, screens are everywhere and constantly surround our children. We believe that plano is an important part of the answer to helping curb the harmful effects of excessive screen time and to help parents protect their children in the battle against myopia in this digital world.

* plano users can look forward to a series of exciting announcements which include a new app interface for both parents and children and improved product functionality. To download the app on your mobile device, click here.

Early intervention is critical for slowing the progression of myopia and protecting our children from the risks of developing blinding eye diseases associated with high myopia.

Here at Plano, we recognise that an important aspect of early intervention is education. The challenge for us is to find ways to go about educating children in a fun and engaging manner. The Plano ecosystem was created for the very purpose of helping us achieve this and to target our efforts to children across the globe. Within the ecosystem are various products and services developed to educate children about the importance of eye health, with a focus on myopia.

The Plano Adventures are early chapters books based on scientific research. Shifting the power to the next generation, it was written to educate children on avoiding the pitfalls of excessive device use and establish a healthy relationship with emerging technology. Each book covers important subjects including: myopia, device addiction, video game addiction and the importance of outdoor activities for children. You can also find it on Amazon here.

These include online content for children available on our various social media platforms as well as our bestselling children’s book series The Plano Adventures, which I produced in collaboration with award-winning creatives, author Hwee Goh and illustrator David Liew.

Our team in Singapore takes our message directly to primary schools across the nation, where we deliver talks about myopia, the importance of eye health and responsible technology use. As a partner of the Health Promotion Board’s National Myopia Prevention Programme (NMPP),our school talks are aligned with the objectives of the programme which aim to prevent and reduce myopia progression among children. I am proud to say that in 2019 alone, we had the honour of delivering our talks to 70,000 children and 2,500 parents and teachers at 58 schools in Singapore.

Despite the stay home restrictions this year, our primary school outreach efforts did not stop. Instead, they migrated online, and this gave us the chance to reach schools overseas! Just last month, our team delivered a talk to the students, teachers and parents from New Horizon School in Los Angeles, California.

Whatever form they take, be it virtual or physical talks, our school outreach efforts remain one of our most effective methods of engaging with children. This is especially evident in the final segment of our talks, where we teach the children the “clear vision recipe,” and ask them to answer questions about what they have learnt through our presentation. For me, their eagerness to participate and their ability to retain and internalise the content we share with them are clear indicators of how successful our talks are in three key areas. The first is that we empower children with the right information about their eyes. The second is that we teach children why it is important to give their eyes the due protection they deserve from an early age and the third area is that we teach children how best to take care of their eyes in this technology-dependent age.

Over the past 2 years, we were able to educate tens of thousands of children on the importance of eye health, myopia and responsible smart device use. One thing that was immediately clear to us was that education and awareness efforts go a long way, and we must continue chipping away at it to put ‘eyes’ on the map. You can have the best solutions, but without an educated and informed audience, your solutions will fall dramatically short in reaching those in need. At Plano, we are committed to ramping up our education and awareness efforts in Singapore and across the globe.

Contact us here if you would like to learn more about our talks for children.

Last month, our Head of Research at Plano, Dr Joshua Foreman, had planned to give an oral presentation on some of Plano’s research activities at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, or ARVO, in Baltimore in the U.S., which is a major global conference where eye health experts meet to share ideas and present their research.

Sadly, ARVO was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we still wanted to share our important work with the world, so Dr Foreman did the next best thing, which was to record himself delivering his ARVO presentation from his home and make it freely available online. The presentation can be viewed here.

In his presentation, Dr Foreman discussed how the plano application is being used to collect big data on eye care service utilisation among children in 8 countries. In his talk, Dr Foreman described how Plano’s capacity to collect big data through the plano application represents an efficient and disruptive method for answering major questions about eye health at a population level in a way that overcomes many of the cost, geographical and logistical barriers of conventional research.

This presentation set out to answer one of the many questions that Plano is working to answer: What proportion of plano users had undergone an eye examination within the past year?

This question needs to be answered because the world is facing a rapidly worsening global myopia crisis, with half the world’s population expected to be myopic by 2050, and in order to prevent or slow myopia’s progression, or simply treat the condition so that children are able to function normally in the world, they must undergo regular and timely eye examinations.

So Dr Foreman presented a snapshot of the plano app’s userbase from November 2019 in which the rates of utilisation among children across the whole sample of 8 countries as well as Singapore more specifically were discussed. It is important to remember though that the plano userbase has grown substantially since these data were analysed. The results were staggering nonetheless.

The results

We discovered just how severely paediatric eye healthcare services are under-utilised in every country in which the plano app has been launched. In fact, only 22.6% children across all 8 countries had ever had an eye examination and 9% had been examined in the past year.

Only 7% of non-myopes had an eye examination in the past year and alarmingly, even among those with myopia, only 33.1% had an eye examination in the past year.

The highest rate of utilisation was found in Singapore, with 15.1% of children having undergone an eye exam in the past year. This is still low given that Singapore is known to have both a high prevalence of myopia and a world-class health system.

Considering these findings, one thing is explicitly clear. We have to close the loop in paediatric eye healthcare service delivery in Singapore and around the world as almost all of the vision loss that occurs from myopia is correctable, and timely consultation with an optometrist may provide the opportunity to actually slow the progression of myopia through lifestyle or medical intervention.

Our ARVO presentation has shown that because most children are not undergoing sufficiently regular eye examinations, an unacceptable proportion of them are at risk of having myopia that is progressing undetected and untreated, which places them at risk of severe impacts on quality of life, social interactions, and learning.

How can these findings help us?

We need to use these findings to inform policy formulation to deliver much needed eye care to more children.

This is exactly what we at Plano aim to do.

For example, Plano Eyecheck, which is integrated in the plano app, allows families in Singapore to connect with their nearest optometrist and to locate, book and manage their appointments for a variety of eye care services all from a single platform. Similarly, the rest of our products and services in our ecosystem, be it our reports, outreach programmes in schools and workplaces, our educational resources on our website, or our app, aim to empower early intervention in eye care.

Ultimately, for us as Plano, the role of the big data we continue to capture is to enable us to understand more about paediatric eye healthcare. As our user base continues to grow, we will continue to answer more and more questions and develop new ways to reduce the burden of myopia in children around the world.

In this together

The fight against myopia as well as against device addiction is a global problem and it requires global solutions. Plano is one piece of the puzzle, but true strength comes from working together.

At the heart of Plano’s ethos is the importance of research, science, innovation and creative thinking. We welcome research institutes, universities, governments and other organisations to contact us to form research partnerships so that together we can save sight and empower lives.

When I first began my entrepreneurial journey at Plano 3 years ago, I realized one thing pretty quickly. It isn’t enough to have a good idea. True success lies in being able to execute your idea and turn it into a living, breathing and thriving company.

The business world is a competitive and cutthroat one, and navigating it can be challenging for any entrepreneur, myself included. I always say entrepreneurship is a daily grind – you have to keep working at developing your key pillars and making sure you adhere to them without fail.

What are these pillars? They are the foundation of your business, they all complement each other and they work together to hold your company up. As the Managing Director of a startup company, things have not always been easy or gone smoothly.

At Plano there are always challenges and unforeseen issues that test our limits and require us to act quickly and with flexibility and resilience. I knew when we first started this company that this was not going to be a walk in the park, and so right from the start I built the company on the foundation of these three strong and inter-dependent pillars:

1. A clear vision

In the last few years, one of the biggest questions I get asked about Plano is, “As an eye health tech company, what exactly is your measure of success?”

To me, defining success starts at the beginning – The Vision. A clear vision serves as the driving force of any entrepreneur; it is the energy source that you draw from, especially during trying times, and is the reason you wake up every day. However, it does not just stop there; beyond creating and believing in your vision yourself, you have to communicate it effectively to several groups of people.

The first of which are your investors. A clear vision which is delivered with conviction has the ability to get your investors excited about your business idea, and back it up, even if you are a founder of a small startup who is new to the scene. This is especially important in the early stages of setting up your company, where funding is a key part of the process.

The second group is your team. Communicating your vision to your team facilitates the creation of your company culture. It guides your team’s values and principles and inspires their purpose. A shared vision serves as a spark that fuels the team to work towards a common goal.

For us at Plano, each and every component of our ecosystem – be it our products or people – sets out to achieve our vision, which is, “Saving sight and empowering lives.” And every time we achieve this, be it through increasing the utilization of eye care or reducing the progression of myopia and the incidence of high myopia, we see success.

2. The tenacity to survive seasons of turbulence 

It is no secret that entrepreneurship has its ups and downs. It is an emotional rollercoaster; One minute you are celebrating, the next minute you have to deal with something that could be potentially devastating to your business.

Riding out the storms during this unpredictable journey entails having the drive to pick yourself up after setbacks and thereafter, without missing a beat, channeling your energy into devising new strategies to pivot in times of crises. I think it is safe to say that for many entrepreneurs, the pandemic has forced us to switch gears in response to the myriad challenges it has brought with it.

For instance, the implementation of the circuit breaker measures in Singapore had caused all of us at Plano to halt a large proportion of our physical efforts, including our outreach programs in schools and workplaces, and to regroup.

The dawn of the pandemic had also caused a shift in the mindsets of most of our target market, that is, our parent audience. Essentially, protecting their children from Covid-19 understandably took precedence over everything else, eye health included.

Taking the first steps to pivot during this new circumstance was undoubtedly no easy feat. However, the pandemic pushed me and the team to really have a think about our consumers, and how best to serve them during these trying times.

The turning point came during our brainstorming sessions when we identified that beyond the immediate health risks of the virus, curbing the potential of  collateral eye damage and other negative consequences of the inevitable increase in screen time during the stay-home period was a significant issue for many families. We then adapted our marketing strategies to address this pain point and channeled our efforts into developing resources to help parents.

3. A great team

Your team has the power to make or break your company. What is the secret to building a good team? For me, there are 2 very important ingredients that go into the process.

The first is identifying individuals with empathy. I really work well with people who care; they care about the vision, the goals and doing it all together. These individuals are intrinsically motivated to do their best, work through challenges and to push each other to achieve greater heights. The second ingredient is identifying individuals with courage. You need team members who have the courage to take risks and to believe in the vision.

While these ‘ingredients’ sound rather abstract, I believe that being a real leader is about having the ability to build real connections with people and discerning their soft skills and values early on, be it during the interview process or otherwise.

I was lucky enough to have assembled a team made up of individuals who not only have the above two ingredients, but who were able to swiftly adapt to the new circumstances and retain an unbreakable sense of joint vision. These are the qualities that cannot be reverse engineered, and at the end of the day, are what gives your company an edge over your competitors!

The era of Covid-19 has truly exemplified how these three pillars have to be tended to right from the outset. It is only when your pillars are strong that you will be able to adapt to whatever challenges come your way in your entrepreneurial journey. We all have it in us, we just have to remember to not lose sight of the end goal and enjoy the ride along the way!

Covid19 has accelerated many technology trends, including telehealth. What does this mean for the world of eye health service delivery?

With the explosion of mobile technology, major changes are underway in the way that healthcare services are delivered to patients. Innovation in telemedicine has seen more and more healthcare providers, from psychiatrists to ophthalmologists, consulting with patients remotely.

The telemedicine wave has been steadily gathering pace for years, but now that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it all but impossible to be in the same room as a doctor for many people around the world, the inevitable future in which telemedicine plays a central role in healthcare has rushed into the present.

Of course, telemedicine has been around for years and has been particularly useful for providing care remotely to those in rural areas where there are very few healthcare services available, but in the year 2020, even those of us in major cities like Singapore or New York have been video-chatting with our doctors whose offices are just down the street.

So what does this new telehealth revolution mean for the world of eye health service delivery?

Telemedicine practices were already well established for ophthalmology services, with two major applications. The first is screening and diagnosis of certain eye conditions, most successfully in diabetic retinopathy (one of the leading causes of blindness in adults) and retinopathy of prematurity in infants.

The second is the enhancement of communication between eye care professionals through innovative and secure health data sharing platforms. However, telehealth services have been less commonly used by optometrists.

Now in the era of COVID-19, optometrists are adopting telehealth to varying degrees to see their patients remotely. For instance, virtual consultations may be used by optometrists to detect certain common eye issues like a stye or other obvious problems on the surface of the eye or externally that are visible through a smartphone camera.

Optometrists may then give recommendations to their patients on the follow-up actions required– either through home-treatments or they may recommend in-person consultation if the concern carries significant risk. These virtual visits make it more convenient for patients to take the initial step to connect with their eye care professionals to seek immediate counsel on their eye health, rather than avoiding addressing their eye health concerns altogether due to fear of infection.

The limitations

While these tele-consultations offer a way to reassure patients and ensure that they can be advised on seeking care when it is urgent, there are still significant limitations in their capacity to offer comprehensive optometric services.

In the midst of the myopia epidemic, for example, children need to have their visual acuity and their refraction tested regularly to ensure that their spectacle prescription is up-to-date. While there are technologies in the pipeline that may eventually allow optometrists to reliably test vision through an app, they are a long way from approval and commercial availability, and no such technologies exist for measuring refraction.

Therefore, most of what optometrists do must still be done in person. Telemedicine has proven to be a great leap forward, but we need to remember that it should not be regarded as a substitute for in-person care. The ‘hands-on’ nature of eyecare necessitates that telehealth only plays a complementary role to healthcare professionals themselves and should enhance the consultancy process through the aforementioned ways.

During these difficult times, the enhanced communication facilitated by modern technology remains a great way for eye care professionals to stay in touch with their patients. And as telemedicine continues to evolve to work more seamlessly with healthcare providers, we can undoubtedly look forward to a more efficient and higher quality service delivery in the near future.

These days, ‘switching off’ from our digital devices seems more challenging than ever as we remain holed up in our homes, with huge chunks of our lives migrating to our screens.

For parents across the globe, managing their children’s screen time during the stay home measures is just another stressor they have to deal with on a daily basis.

Screen time among children has been on the rise during the pandemic. In fact, our investigation of screen time during the circuit breaker period in a subset of Singaporean primary and secondary school children found that this group of children are spending an average of 8.5 hours each day in front of smart device screens during this period. This is a 25% increase in screen time as compared to before the circuit breaker started.

The rise in screen time has left many parents more frazzled than ever before, as they try in vain to curb their children’s device use often by arbitrarily implementing screen time rules. And this, as research shows, may even lead to more problems in the household! The ‘restrictive’ approach of policing their children through rules and punishments to control screen time can put a strain on parent-child relationships. In fact, in this digital age, screen time disagreements between parents and children are one of the biggest sources of conflicts in the household.

With screen time having such large implications on household dynamics, it has become extremely important to rethink how parents should go about managing their children’s screen time. In other words, given that policing screen time creates animosity and tension between parents and children, is there another way parents can manage how their children use their devices?

Professor of social psychology, Sonia Livingstone OBE suggests that there indeed is. She encourages a more dialogic home environment where parents engage with their children about technology through open communication and working together with them, rather than arbitrarily imposing the rules.

This process takes into account children’s needs with regards to their digital devices, and necessitates that parents educate and offer guidance to their children about what the ‘right’ types of online content and screen-based activities are. Ultimately, it seeks to empower children with the knowledge on how best to maximise digital opportunities while avoiding the pitfalls of technology, in a fun and engaging way.

Shifting away from ‘policing’ to a more holistic solution to screen time management not only enhances children’s relationships with their devices but cultivates healthier relationships between parents and children.

This is exactly what we at Plano strive to achieve every day. We believe that positive reinforcement of healthy device use habits and a collaborative home environment are key to enabling children to organically achieve well-balanced relationships with their digital devices. Beyond that, empowering parents with the right information about the world their children are growing up in is very much part of our holistic education and awareness efforts. 

As digital devices become more and more embedded in children’s lives, simply policing device use is a one dimensional approach to a complex situation. And I believe that the parents who evolve their methods of managing their children’s screen time from policing to empowering hold the key to helping their children create a lifetime of healthy device habits.

The pivot to the new way of life has not been easy, but the takeaways during this stay home period have been truly transformative.

With the daily number of new community cases dropping significantly, Singapore is gearing up to cautiously lift its circuit breaker measures over three phases, starting from 2nd June 2020.

The safe and gradual re-opening of some activities is also being observed by several other countries around the world. While it is too soon to celebrate the end of the pandemic, it is safe to say that we can expect some aspects of our ‘pre-Covid19 lives’ to be restored in the near future.

However, for the most part, I believe that the pandemic has altered much of how we live our lives, including fulfilling our domestic and professional obligations. Pivoting has not been easy, but will most certainly, if not already, inform how many of us will go into the post-lockdown period.

Here are some of my key takeaways from the circuit breaker in Singapore, that I hope to bring with me even after the measures have been lifted.

1. Communication is everything

The last couple of months have hit all of us in different ways. For many entrepreneurs like me, the pandemic has forced us to switch gears and ramp up our efforts at an immense rate. This process has not been easy and is certainly not a one-man task; my team at Plano has been working tirelessly to achieve our strategic objectives.

Communication and collaboration have always been at the heart of this process at Plano. However, in adapting to our new mode of remote working, I found that communication is truly effective when it is frequent and coherent. And this applies to both your face-to-face interactions and your Zoom and Skype conversations.

Quality communication at work helps you achieve a lot: Beyond facilitating work-related meetings, it helps you check in with your team, affirm their individual and collective efforts and encourage their progress. Frequent and coherent communication is essential in ensuring that the team remains tightly knit and continues to work collaboratively like a well-oiled machine, even if they are not physically together.

2. Being physically active is a big part of being mentally keyed in

As many of us have already found out, staying physically active is easier said than done these days. With most of our days spent being cooped up indoors, many of us are in danger of a sedentary lifestyle, spending long hours on our devices. And with that comes a myriad of long-term life-threatening conditions associated with overuse.

Addressing this goes beyond following your routine home workout videos, it also entails remaining physically active while working.

In fact, I found that staying up and about made a world of difference not just to my mental wellbeing but my general ability to focus. I encourage everyone to have frequent breaks, walk or run if you can, stand (or dance) while working – whatever you can to stay active. This does not just apply to remote working, you should incorporate this when you do get back to your regular workstations!

3. Having a ‘can-do’ attitude is essential

The power of staying positive in testing situations like these is unparalleled.

A can-do attitude at the workplace has the ability to boost your team’s morale and encourages everyone in the team to collectively and whole-heartedly work towards a common goal. However, having a positive attitude even when life hands you lemons is a work in progress for many of us, me included. The good news is, like with any habit, it can be developed with a little work. 

If the crisis has taught me one thing, it is that while none of us are immune to its implications, we all have it in us to adapt to the tough situations at hand, develop strategies to pivot and thrive no matter where we are. I am looking forward to taking the lessons I have learnt, the good and the bad, into this new phase in my life!

The battle against the pandemic rages on. People across the globe in the thick of the stay home measures are seeing much of their lives migrating to the online world. A rise in screen time for both children and adults is the new way of life and is arguably an unavoidable consequence of our lifestyle changes during these unprecedented times.

However, along with the changes in our screen time habits come a myriad of health consequences, some of their effects lasting and irreversible if left unaddressed.

How much has screen time risen by?

Preliminary findings from our cohort in Singapore showed an increase in screen time of almost 20% for both children and adults during this period. This is particularly worrying given that literature has found that even 2-year olds are already spending at least 2 hours in front of screens, with screen time increasing to more than 7 hours in teenagers.

Sleep duration is also affected. In Singapore, our research finds that children are sleeping almost four hours less each week.

The health risks of the new screen time habits

Excessive near-work is one of the most important risk factors for the onset and progression of myopia. Screen-based activities constitute a new form of near-work, and children who use devices tend to do so indoors for long uninterrupted periods with poor posture and at viewing distances closer than conventional books.

Furthermore, as screen time increases, children are spending less time on outdoor activities. This is worrying as outdoor activity has been shown to have a protective effect on myopia development and progression, with research finding that 2 hours of outdoor activity each day reduces the risk and progression of myopia by 10 to 20%.

As such, children who are excessively using their smart devices are at higher risk of developing myopia, which, in some cases, may lead to high myopia. High myopia (SER ≤ -6.00D) is a severe case of myopia that can also lead to blinding eye conditions like glaucoma and retinal detachment.

cute girl use phone and feel eye pain in the resturant

For adults and children alike, excessive screen time is also associated with digital eye strain (DES), which is a group of eye-related problems resulting from prolonged screen time. The symptoms of DES include eye irritation, burning, dryness, redness, sensitivity to light and a loss of the eye’s ability to focus correctly, resulting in blurred vision and headaches, sometimes mimicking that of a migraine.

The health implications of excessive screen time do not stop at these eye health problems; it also increases the risk of mental illness, musculoskeletal problems, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to protect ourselves and our children from these detrimental effects.

Mitigating the health risks with quality screen time

For parents especially, the battle to limit screen time can be incredibly stressful. Screen time recommendations can be challenging to adhere to during these times. As such, adopting a variety of alternative strategies to supplement these recommendations is key.

A key strategy is to curate your children’s online content when they do use their devices. You can help your children make the best use of their time online by sourcing for high-quality media content. According to the National Institute of Early Childhood Development in Singapore, such media content should check these boxes:

A.    Is it engaging: Do the design features keep your child focused or distracted from the learning goal?

B.    Does it actively involve: Do the tasks challenge your kid to explore or does your child tap and swipe mindlessly?

C.     Is it meaningful: Does the content introduce new concepts within a context your child is familiar with?

D.    Can it be social: Can you engage with your child by using “serve-and-return interactions” like talking about what he or she sees and does?

Beyond this, it is important to inculcate in our children good device habits from an early age. Understandably, for many parents around the world, limiting children’s screen time and screening their online behaviour all on top of managing their professional obligations is no easy feat.

As such, we at Plano will be helping all parents in Singapore by providing the annual premium subscription of the plano application for free. With the full suite of parental control features now available for everyone, we hope we can help alleviate some of your parenting stressors, especially when it comes to your children’s screen time.

Under these turbulent circumstances, taking the necessary steps to improve our children’s interactions with their devices is imperative. There is no doubt in my mind that with a positive mindset and undying resolve to tackle the new challenges we will be able to get through this together!

With more than 4 billion smartphones in use around the world, all with the potential to house apps that can help to monitor and manage public health crises, it is clear that they are the wave of the future of epidemic control.

With just one recorded case of community transmission of unknown origin on Tuesday, Australia appears to be on the cusp of winning its war against COVID-19. As the Australian Government is gearing up to cautiously re-open its economy and loosen lockdown measures, it is not taking any chances.

In an effort to keep the public safe, this week the Government launched COVIDSafe, a contact tracing smartphone application that was designed to deliver what its name promises: to slow the spread of the virus and to create a Covid-safe Australia so that restrictions can be eased safely.

How exactly does the app achieve this?

Users will first have to install COVIDSafe and register their information on the app. Once installed, it uses a Bluetooth signal to recognise and exchange a ‘digital handshake’ with another user which involves logging and encrypting the date, time, distance and duration of the contact when they come within 1.5m. Users will also be notified if they have had more than 15 minutes of close contact with another user who has tested positive for the virus.

The use of the contact tracing app to help ameliorate the virus has been, in large part, embraced by the Australian public, with some 2.9 million Australians downloading the app within just 24 hours of its launch. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison heralded the potential benefits of the app even likening it to ‘wearing sunscreen outside.’

It is hoped that if enough people use the COVIDSafe app, localised clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks can be contained rapidly so that the rest of Australia can maintain some normality.

I applaud the Australian people for all they have done to contain the epidemic, including the largescale uptake of this app, and I cannot help but draw comparisons with our own app and the way it is being used to manage yet another pandemic – that of myopia.

Much like the COVIDSafe app, plano monitors behaviour in real time and warns the user when they are at risk, though not from viral infection but from something equally invisible: the development of device dependency, myopia and the array of other undesirable consequences of too much screen time.

As the uptake of plano continues to increase around the world, we hope that it helps to both improve our understanding of the epidemiology of myopia as well as to directly help at the individual level to reduce the burden of the myopia epidemic.

With more than 4 billion smartphones in use around the world, all with the potential to house apps that can help to monitor and manage public health crises, it is clear that they are the wave of the future of epidemic control. And the crest of this wave is growing ever-higher, with apps being developed to track ebola and malaria epidemics, as well as other public health issues. No doubt, other disease niches will continue to be filled by this rapidly evolving technology.

In these trying times, it is hard to imagine a world without any restrictions, lockdowns or isolations. Fortunately, the development of health apps like COVIDSafe that protect populations from worse health outcomes is putting the world on the right track to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic sooner.

The success of these apps in large part depends on the extent to which populations worldwide embrace them. It is only then that their translational utility for helping the world will truly be realised.