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ACCESSIBLE EYE SCREENINGS TO PREVENT DIABETIC BLINDNESS
Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in patients with diabetes. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois is making vision screenings more accessible in the communities we serve.
Getting an eye screening each year from a specialist can be hard, so some health clinics are using telehealth technology to help make those screenings easy.
This technology is more than a matter of convenience for people with diabetes. Finding and treating diabetic retinopathy early can help stop vision loss in most cases.
Retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. By helping clinics provide easy and accessible eye exams where patients seek routine health care, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is trying to help stop vision loss.
Retinopathy is damage to the blood vessels of the eye caused by high sugar levels. Symptoms include:
- Seeing spots or floaters
- Blurred vision
- Having a dark or empty spot in the center of vision
- Difficulty seeing well at night
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, people may not experience any symptoms. For that reason, it’s important to have an eye exam every year.
When diabetic patients visit Esperanza Health Center in Chicago, nurse practitioners are now able to use a specialized handheld digital camera to do retinopathy screenings during the regular appointment. There’s no need for patients to see a specialist separately.
Images are captured without dilating the pupils, then sent electronically to an eye specialist. A diagnostic report is usually delivered within 90 minutes. If there are signs of diabetic retinopathy, the patient is referred to an ophthalmologist for a complete exam and, if necessary, treatment.
“Our patients face many barriers in accessing health care. Some are uninsured or underinsured,” said Carrie Kindleburger, Esperanza Health Center Family Nurse Practitioner. “To be able to do that [eye screening] here in the clinic means that more patients are getting those services provided and getting checked for retinopathy.”
With regular checkups, most people with diabetes are able to catch retinopathy early enough to prevent significant vision loss, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois is working with Esperanza and five other clinics in the Chicago area to improve screening rates for diabetic retinopathy.
Participating clinics are federally qualified health centers. They receive government funding to provide comprehensive primary and preventive care to underserved areas or populations. The eye tests are available at no charge for any clinic patient who needs one, not just BCBSIL members.
Since the start of the program, 1,100 people have been scanned. Retinopathy was detected in 15% of these patients.
The initiative is part of BCBSIL’s broader efforts to manage and prevent diabetes by coordinating care in local communities.
CARRIE KINDLEBURGER (FAMILY NURSE PRACTITIONER/PROVIDER CHAMP FOR DIABETES AT ESPERANZA HEALTH): Diabetic retinopathy is a big concern for patients with diabetes. Retinopathy is damage to the blood vessels of the eye caused by high sugar levels.
CARRIE KINDLEBURGER: The retinopathy machine is a camera that is looking at the back of the eye, the retina that is affected by retinopathy. Those images are taken by the machine, uploaded and sent to an ophthalmologist to be able to evaluate them.
Since the start of the program with BCBSIL 1100 people have been scanned Pathology was detected in 15% of those individuals.
SANDRA RICO (PATIENT): Since I am a diabetic I need to get my eyes checked once a year and it was time for me to get my eyes checked.
CARRIE KINDLEBURGER: The patient will come for regular diabetes visit if they are due for retina screening then they’ll have the screening of the retinas in the same visit…
SANDRA RICO: First, they put me in a dark room, so my vision could rest, and then one of the nurses came in and she did the exam.
CARRIE KINDLEBURGER: The camera will be brought in held up to the eye no dilation involved no eye drops and then the images cap usually takes less than 5 minutes.
I didn’t have to wait to see a specialist and then see the doctor again; it was just an instant result.
CARRIE KINDLEBURGER: If there are signs of diabetic retinopathy then that patient would be referred to see and ophthalmologist where they would get a complete exam and possibly treatment.
CARRIE KINDLEBURGER: Our patients face many barriers in accessing health care some are uninsured or underinsured to be able to do that here in the clinic means that patients more patients are getting those services provided and getting checked for retinopathy.