Telemedicine doubles screening rates for retinopathy

The use of telemedicine helped a primary care clinic more than double the percentage of diabetic patients undergoing screening for retinopathy over the course of a year, according to a research letter published this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers, based out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, approached the study hypothesizing that telemedicine was "an emerging strategy" to boost retinopathy screenings for diabetic patients. The results backed up their initial predictions, as screening frequency jumped from 32 percent to 71 percent in one year's time.

More than 1,000 patients with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes were included in the analysis.

"Despite well-accepted national and international guidelines, on average, less than 50 percent of patients with diabetes mellitus undergo screening for retinopathy in the United States," the authors wrote. "Introducing this technology at the point of care of the primary care physician could substantially reduce barriers and improve early detection of retinopathy."

A commentary on the research letter, also published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, warns that "while … we may have found a strategy to rapidly increase screening for retinopathy … we must avoid creating an unregulated cottage industry." Lauren Patty Daskivich, M.D., of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, and Carol Mangione, M.D., of the University of California Los Angeles, argued that instead, national standards around telemedicine and retinopathy screening need to be created.

"This standardization would both ensure the accuracy and the reliability critical to fully realizing the potential of this technology to prevent blindness and mitigate the risks associated with false-negative results," Daskivich and Mangione wrote.

To learn more:
- here's the research letter
- read the accompanying commentary