Eye screenings of people with diabetes in underserved communities revealed that one in five had early stage diabetic retinopathy, according to a new study by a research consortium including investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The findings, published JAMA Ophthalmology, also indicated that nearly half of the mostly minority populations screened had additional vision conditions such as glaucoma or cataract. The study, which used a telemedicine screening approach, also provided early validation of the efficacy of telemedicine in reaching underserved populations, according to UAB officials.
The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, screened 1,894 people at four urban clinic or pharmacy settings in the United States that served predominantly ethnic/racial minority and uninsured people with diabetes. Twenty-one percent had diabetic retinopathy in at least one eye. The vast majority of those cases, 94 percent, had early stage diabetic retinopathy, which does not cause vision impairment itself; but it is a warning sign that serious retinal problems may be starting. Forty-four percent had other vision issues; 30 percent of those were cataract.
The screening method was relatively simple, using a nonmydriatic camera, which does not require eye dilation to take three images of the eye. The images were sent to a single facility for reading, with results then delivered back to the study locations. For the patient, the process is not time-consuming and is noninvasive. The cameras operation is not complicated, and operators do not require advanced training.
This study suggests that telemedicine lends itself to screening and diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy, lead author Cynthia Owsley said It is cost-effective and expands the reach of screenings by accessing regions that may be experiencing a shortage of ophthalmologists and optometrists.
The study is available here.
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