More doctors should recommend iPhones and other smartphones for visually impaired patients, a new study concludes.

The study was small, however. Researchers surveyed 46 adults who had low vision, ranging from 20/70 when corrected to complete blindness. Eleven of them used smartphones, and the average age of those 11 was 36. Only 15 percent of the study subjects said a vision doctor had recommended smartphones to them. About two-thirds of them — average age 65 — used basic cell phones. Another five patients didn’t have any sort of cell phone.

The researchers found several benefits to smartphones over cell phones:

  • Font sizes can be increased so users with very poor vision can text and email.
  • The screen can be brightened considerably.
  • GPS and voice features help the visually impaired to navigate.

“Smartphones can dramatically improve the quality of life of people with poor vision,” said Dr. Walter M. Jay, a Loyola University ophthalmologist and senior author of the study, which was announced today and presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

“Young, visually impaired patients are getting ahead of their doctors,” Jay said. “Low-vision specialists should be getting out in front on this rather than being behind the curve."