AUSTIN, Texas, Oct. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The eye disease diabetic retinopathy threatens the vision of more than 5 million U.S. adults over the age of 40 and is the leading cause of blindness in this country. While highly treatable if caught early, less than half of diabetics keep up with the recommended annual eye screening.
For several years, Austin Regional Clinic (ARC), a Central Texas multispecialty healthcare clinic based in Austin, Texas, used electronic medical record alerts, mailed letters and made phone calls to encourage eye screenings among its 18,000 diabetic patients. Yet, only 55 percent of their patients complied with the yearly screening.
Frustrated with these results, ARC launched a pilot program to test if embedding specialized camera technology in primary care clinics would boost screening rates. Since starting the pilot, ARC has helped hundreds of patients identified with diabetic retinopathy prevent or treat their eye disease.
"The results have been outstanding. We never imagined it to be so successful so quickly," said Anas Daghestani, MD, ARC CEO and Medical Director of Population Health & Clinical Quality.
In 2015, 1112 patients were screened at three clinics of which 22-percent were diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. After doubling the number clinics offering the screening, ARC has screened an additional 1769 patients in just the first six months of 2016 with 19-percent diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy.
Dr. Daghestani says a major factor in the pilot's success was making it easy to get screened.
"Depending on the stage of their diabetes, patients have several specialist appointments, which can be overwhelming. We're helping to alleviate this by conveniently offering the eye screening during their regularly scheduled physician or lab visit," explained Dr. Daghestani.
Here is how the embedded eye screening technology works: An image of a patient's retina is captured during his or her primary care visit and then sent seamlessly and securely across the city to a team of retinal specialists. If deterioration in the retina is detected, the patient is recommended to follow up with an ophthalmologist to review options.
"All people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at risk for this disease, which means blindness is a real possibility for tens of thousands of persons in the Austin community," explained Dr. Daghestani.
Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to the blood vessels located in the tissue at the back of the eye (retina). Too much sugar in the blood can lead to damage and leakage of blood of the tiny blood vessels and into the retina, leading to blurry vision or, in the worst case, blindness. The disease carries few symptoms until it's too late to treat, often when the onset of blindness is near.
Between 40 to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. The rate of blindness is about 2-percent. That means for every 1,000 patients screened, we've prevented 20 people from losing their vision, explained Dr. Daghestani.
"Excuses like 'I don't have time for another appointment' or 'I'm too young to worry about eye disease' are no longer valid. Diabetic patients in our clinics who have not yet had their annual screening can get one," said Daghestani.
About Austin Regional Clinic
Austin Regional Clinic is a multispecialty medical group committed to providing comprehensive healthcare services throughout Central Texas. Founded by three physicians in 1980, it now provides health care to over 430,000 area residents in 21 locations in seven cities, including both primary and specialty care. For more information, visit www.austinregionalclinic.com.
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SOURCE Austin Regional Clinic