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Telemedicine – A Revolutionary Blindness Screening Tool?

Written by Courteney

Posted on September 10, 2016 at 5:18 am

Telemedicine can be useful for various types of screening and monitoring of diseases (for example Telestroke monitoring), but unfortunately both doctors and patients are slow-moving to embrace such a convenient answer to health issues that can be caught early and fixed, like diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease associated with diabetes that causes progressive damage to the retinas, often leading to total blindness if left undetected or untreated. Diabetic retinopathy affects up to 80% of diabetics who have had the disease for longer than a couple decades, however, with early detection and regular check-ups, medications and lifestyle changes, retinopathy can be slowed or even stopped. The problem is detecting it in the first place. Many people don’t get the opportunity to regularly (if ever) visit an eye doctor, and the problem is so gradual that some people don’t realize just how bad their eyes have gotten until it is too late to reverse damage.

A Potential Fix?

Recently in Engliand, the implementation of a nationwide telehealth program utilizing mobile blindness and retinopathy screening units has caught thousands of cases early enough to treat, effectively neutralizing diabetic retinopathy as England’s leading cause of blindness. Such a program in the United States could achieve similarly impressive results, if the American populous continues on to better embrace telemedicine.

Telemedicine and Retinopathy of Prematurity

While diabetes eye screening is just an idea so far in America, a relatively new telemedicine system has been actively preventing newborn blindness here, targeting and helping prevent the terrifying condition retinopathy of prematurity (RoP). Sadly, few are aware of the serious blindness risk faced by premature babies born under 2 pounds. They face this devastating type of retina destruction unless it is detected and treated within their first month of life. Thanks to telemedicine, necessary screening is becoming more available to help detect this vision problems of babies.

Last Look at Telemedicine for Eye Care

Telemedicine eye screening could be revolutionary when it comes to providing cost effective screenings to diabetic patients who can’t otherwise access eye care, rural patients, those without health insurance or those in nursing homes. Assistant professor of ophthalmology at Kellogg Eye Center, Dr. Maria Woodward says of telemedicine for eye screenings “Telemedicine has been shown to be a safe method to provide monitoring for diabetic eye care.” However, in a recent study only about 4% of people polled even heard about telemedicine – so there certainly needs to be more awareness to increase acceptance and demand so these services can become available to the general populace. So hopefully, we will begin to see more support and demand for a service similar to England’s which can revolutionize diabetic retinopathy just like it has started to do for RoP.

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