One of the largest growing health problems in the United States is the prevalence of Type II Diabetes. However, it is typically not diabetes that is of great concern, but rather the comorbidities that become more common as a result of having diabetes. One of these comorbidities is diabetic retinopathy, which is the most common cause of blindness in working-age adults. However, less than 50% of individuals with diabetes have regular eye examinations. This is a problem because of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of diabetic retinopathy that does not typically show symptoms until late in the progression of the disease.
There are many factors that contribute to that 50% figure, including:
• shortage of eye care professionals • distance patients need to travel to urban areas, • and costs associated with proper eye care/examinations.
To address these issues, a project was implemented in Australia for the use of Teleophthalmology. Teleophthalmology, besides being tragically complicated to pronounce and spell, is best described as eye care through digital medical equipment and telecommunications.
The project implemented in Australia provided a convenient, cost-effective solution for eye examination for patients with diabetes. This program was tested and verified by ophthalmologist specialists and proven effective at testing for diabetic retinopathy. The results of the study showed an increase in early diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy, which helped patients to be referred earlier to an eye specialist with the hope being to prevent the onset of visual impairment.
The use of teleophthalmological programs is just one pixel in the picture of overall health and well-being of diabetic patients, but the implications for rural and underserved populations go on for as far as the eye can see.