Telemedicine Success Story: Preventing Infant Blindness in Rural Areas

A study funded by the National Eye Institute found telemedicine was an effective strategy to screen for retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding disease affecting premature infants.

More than half of infants born prematurely — 30 weeks pregnancy or younger — have some degree of ROP, a condition in which the blood vessels in the retina grow abnormally and can lead to scarring and detachment of the retina.

In this study, premature infants underwent screening by an ophthalmologist who took photos of the babies' eyes and electronically sent them to a remote image reading center for evaluation. The non-physician staff at the image reading center analyzed the images and determined whether the infants should be referred to an ophthalmologist for evaluation and/or treatment. Researchers were aiming to determine how accurately the remote staff at the imaging center matched the determinations of the ophthalmologists evaluating the infants onsite.

The remote image readers correctly identified 90 percent of the infants determined to have referral-warranted ROP as deemed by the ophthalmologist, and 87 percent of the time they correctly identified the infants who did not have RW-ROP.

Additionally, the remote image readers identified advanced ROP cases earlier than the ophthalmologist 43 percent of the time, approximately 15 days sooner.

Researchers suggest telemedicine is beneficial for reducing hazards involved with traveling to larger nurseries to see specialists, and it may help reduce the cost of routine ROP screening. Offering telemedicine services to conduct routine screening increases the amount of time ophthalmologists can spend treating infants who need immediate care, they suggest.

More Articles on Telemedicine:

Pushing Telemedicine's Boundaries...Into Outer Space
American Academy of Neurology Advocates for Telemedicine
Verizon Introduces Telemedicine Service

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