Since the adoption of telemedicine by UK primary care doctors, diabetic retinopathy is no longer the leading cause of blindness in England or Wales.
Unfortunately, in the USA, medical professionals expect the diabetes epidemic to get worse. Researchers believe that by 2050, about 33 percent of the US adult population will have diabetes. Worldwide, some experts claim that there could be as many as 366 million people living with this disease. With such a dramatic increase of people with diabetes, there will need to be nothing short of a revolution in treatment options.
One of the major complications that stems from diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. This serious complication damages the blood vessels in the retinas and can leave patients permanently blind.
So how does telemedicine work? Actually, it is very simple. Primary care physicians use a specialized camera to take a few pictures of a diabetic patient's retina. There is absolutely no dilation required, and this can all be done in the comfort of a primary care facility. After the pictures are taken, they are then sent off to an eye specialist using cloud technology. If the specialist finds anything to be concerned about, he will let the patient know. Otherwise, doctors will simply keep tabs of the patient's retina in an electronic medical database.
After such a stirring success, American doctors are becoming more and more impatient to implement this technology. To increase awareness about telemedicine in the USA, many American universities are researching all the ways telemedicine can help diabetic patients.
One study by Devers Eye Institute in Portland, Oregon, found that by offering telemedicine screenings with a primary care physician, people screened for diabetic retinopathy went up dramatically. Researchers also found that fewer people had to go see an eye specialist. Telemedicine was found to be particularly helpful for people who lived in rural areas.
The University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center also looked into how telemedicine could make it easier for people to get diabetic retinopathy screenings. They found that only about 3 percent of patients knew what telemedicine was. After doctors took the time to explain to them what telemedicine does, a whopping 69 percent of patients said they would have no objections to using it.
It was only the people who had had diabetes for many years who were unwilling to use telemedicine. Younger people and adults just diagnosed with diabetes were far more willing to use telemedicine.
The only way to prevent blindness from diabetic retinopathy is to catch it early. Right now, a paltry 65 percent of American diabetics get a diabetic retinopathy exam annually. That number only goes down for people just above or below the poverty line. Doctors are hopeful, however, that telemedicine will help increase the number of people getting screenings by offering an easy, safe, and convenient test in every primary care physician’s office.