Ophthalmologists use telemedicine to diagnose blindness in premature infants

A team of researchers from Portland-based Oregon Health & Science University and University of Illinois at Chicago compared the accuracy of binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy examinations and telemedicine evaluations of retinal images when diagnosing an eye condition called retinopathy of prematurity.

The study included 281 premature infants at seven neonatal intensive care units and academic ophthalmology departments in the U.S. and Mexico who met screening criteria for the condition. Each infant underwent an in-person ophthalmoscopy examination on one eye, followed by a remote image review of retinal fundus photographs by three telemedicine graders.

The researchers determined ophthalmoscopy and telemedicine boasted similar accuracy and sensitivity when detecting retinopathy of prematurity among the infants, according to study results published in JAMA Ophthalmology. However, for diagnosing late stage development of the condition, ophthalmoscopy had a slightly higher accuracy.

The researchers suggested telemedicine may improve rates of diagnosis for retinopathy of prematurity in regions that lack access to trained ophthalmologists, such as remote areas or developing countries.

"With the caveat that there was variable accuracy between examiners using both modalities, these results support the use of telemedicine for the diagnosis of clinically significant [retinopathy of prematurity]," the study authors concluded.

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