NEW YORK—Mobile health care is taking on a new dimension with the launch in New York City this week of Blink, an on-demand, in-home vision testing service that is the first of its kind.

Developed by EyeNetra, a Somerville, Mass.-based startup specializing in smartphone-powered refraction technology, Blink allows consumers to go online to schedule a refraction with a trained technician who comes to their location. The technicians, called “Visioneers,” take a health history and operate Blink’s proprietary optical measurement devices to conduct a vision test. Test results are then shared with a professional within Blink’s network of licensed optometrists for review, recommendations and prescriptions, if appropriate.

Blink founder and chief product officer David Schafran told VMail he started Blink in order to make optometric services more accessible for consumers who are seeking more convenience and flexibility than what brick-and-mortar optometric practices can offer.

“The optometrists in the current system are not necessarily connected to consumers in the way consumers would like to be connected today,” said Schafran, who is also a co-founder of EyeNetra. “So we’re extending the optometrists’ reach to do something that’s more in line with current consumer behavior. Instead of seeing one patient at any one time in their office, now they can see multiple patients remotely. It’s not one to one. It’s one to many.”

Schafran, who comes from a family of optometrists but is not one himself, emphasized that Blink does not replace an optometrist. He pointed out that participating optometrists, in addition to providing Blink customers with a new glasses prescription, also provide customers with a referral for a comprehensive eye exam or confirmation they are seeing well without the need of further correction. Blink Visioneers also collect and record patient data, so participating optometrists can devote more of their time to reviewing patient data and creating customized treatment plans, Schafran said.

“By making it easier for consumers to get vision tests, Blink will increase the number of people entering the eyecare system,” predicted Adam Deutscher, OD, a participating optometrist with Blink.

Blink vision tests are now available in seven different New York City neighborhoods. An individual test costs $75. For each test purchased by a paying customer, Blink will give a free vision test for people in need in the community.

Blink does not currently accept vision care insurance, although EyeNetra said it is looking to incorporate vision plans into Blink soon.

At least one managed vision care company, VSP Global, has already demonstrated an interest in EyeNetra and its approach to mobile health. Last year, VSP acquired a minority share in EyeNetra and Jim McGrann, president of its VSP Vision Care division, sits on EyeNetra’s board of directors.

Although VSP is not involved in Blink, McGrann told VMail that technology like EyeNetra’s Netra, a handheld, autorefractor-like device that and is part of the Blink refraction toolkit, has the potential to expand vision care access to underserved communities within the U.S. and countless remote parts of the world with little to no access to these services. “Embracing the potential of the EyeNetra technology will help VSP continue to fulfill its mission to help people see, while at the same time expanding and underlining the important role of the doctor in delivering comprehensive eye exams,” said McGrann.

Schafran said EyeNetra plans to expand Blink to other U.S. cities, but declined to say how quickly a national roll-out might occur or which cities might be involved.

Blink’s vision testing technology is based on research at the MIT Media Lab. The technology uses computing power in conjunction with the camera and mobility of smartphones to replace the bulkier, more expensive equipment typically found in optometry offices. In addition to the Netra device and a smartphone, the Blink toolkit includes the Netrometer, a type of lensmeter and the Netropter, which functions like a phoropter.

Ramesh Raskar, co-founder of EyeNetra and associate professor at MIT Media Lab, presented an early version of Netra at the 2012 Vision Monday Global Leadership Summit.

Blink and EyeNetra are backed by Khosla Ventures, a major venture capital firm, and Khosla Impact, which helps provide resources for projects in developing countries.