Less than a year after its launch, FDRHPO’s Telemedicine-Based Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Program is showing promising results.
The program uses state-of-the-art technology to screen at-risk patients for diabetic retinopathy – a condition in which high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels in the retina, leading to vision disorders and blindness.
Using portable retina cameras embedded in primary care offices throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, medical staff are able to capture a detailed image of a patient’s retina and securely send it to a participating ophthalmologist or optometrist for assessment. Then, a diagnostic report is returned to the primary care provider, who follows up with the patient to discuss results and develop an individualized care plan.
The program is being phased into 28 regional primary care offices over three years. All 16 “Year 1” locations have been trained and are screening patients. Nine “Year 2” locations will be trained by the end of May 2019, and the final three locations will be trained by the end of May 2020.
Since the inception of the program in summer 2018, at least 162 patients have been screened. As of December 2018, partners had identified abnormalities in 48% of all screenings that were conducted, resulting in follow-up and referral activities.
Dr. Karen Williams of Complete Family Care and Laser Center reflected on her practice’s use of the technology, saying:
She recalled one particular retinopathy exam in which a man in his mid-thirties was found to have non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. The man had been diagnosed with diabetes several years ago, but had never been able to access a retinopathy exam before.
“While it is unfortunate that this young man has this condition, we are grateful that this technology made it possible to detect,” Dr. Williams said. “We and the patient can now work together proactively to manage the disease.”
Funding for the Telemedicine-Based Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Program is provided by a three-year, $150,000 Member and Community Health Improvement Grant from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, and an additional $50,000 was secured by state Senator Patty Ritchie in September 2017. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Member and Community Health Improvement (MACHI) grant program provides funding to local, nonprofit organizations that share the organization’s vision for healthier communities. The initiatives supported span multiple years and include specific objectives and measurable outcomes for improving community health. The grant dollars are disbursed over several years to ensure they significantly and positively affect public health.