Remote eye exams urged to prevent blindness in under-served diabetes populations

Jeff Rowe
Remote eye exams urged to prevent blindness in under-served diabetes populations

As healthcare providers consider ways of using telehealth technologies to expand specific service lines, recent research suggests it may come in useful for patients at risk for eye disease due to diabetes.

According to an article in Health Data Management, “less than 65 percent of U.S. adults with diabetes undergo screening for what is considered to be the No. 1 cause of new-onset blindness. Making matters worse, these eye exam rates drop as low as 10 percent to 20 percent for those in underserved populations.”

But a survey of older adults by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center found that nearly 70 percent indicated that telehealth could be more convenient than traditional one-on-one exams with an eye specialist.

“Until now, little has been known about patients’ attitudes toward telemedicine for diabetic retinopathy,” noted Maria Woodward, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Center. “If you make telemedicine convenient for the patient, that really has a big impact.” 

She added that there was no difference based on a patient’s age, gender, race or education level. “People were also more willing to do this if they had a lot of other health problems that made it harder for them to get to the doctor.”

Virtual exams could be particularly helpful in rural areas where eye doctors are in short supply. Retinal photographs are taken of a patient’s eyes at a primary care physician’s office, and the images are sent over a secure cloud-based network to an eye care provider, who then sends a report back to the PCP.

According to Woodward, patients were less interested in telehealth if they had been living with diabetes for several years, or if they already had a strong relationship with their current eye doctor.