In the final analysis, that’s what it all comes down to. Whatever the services we provide for our diabetic patients, how they perceive the delivery of that service and how (and whether) they make use of it, is really the deal-maker. When we offer our diabetic patients the opportunity to have their retinas screened annually in the interests of detecting signs of retinopathy, the way that service is delivered must satisfy the patients and convince them of its worth if they are going to use it. Otherwise, compliance rates with screening and recommended treatment will not rise, and the incidence of vision impairment from diabetic retinopathy will not decline.
Of course we probably all agree with that statement, but it’s particularly encouraging when a third party tells us we’re on the right track. So we were excited about an article posted on the Healthcare IT News forum sponsored by Athenahealth: Remote eye exams urged to prevent blindness in under-served diabetes populations. The article was authored by Jeff Rowe, a contributing writer for Healthcare IT News and editor of HIMSS Future Care. He previously served as editor of EHRWatch, a tech blog focused on all aspects of electronic health records.
Rowe’s article opens with this encouraging news: “As healthcare providers consider ways of using telehealth technologies to expand specific service lines, recent research suggests it may come in useful for patients at risk for eye disease due to diabetes.” He goes on to cite a survey of older adults by the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center, which found that “nearly 70% of respondents indicated that telehealth could be more convenient than traditional one-on-one exams with an eye specialist.”
“People were also more willing to do this if they had a lot of other health problems that made it harder for them to get to the doctor,” according to one of the Michigan researchers, Maria Woodward, MD, professor of ophthalmology. Rowe notes that “virtual exams could be particularly helpful in rural areas where eye doctors are in short supply.”
The findings of the Michigan study as reported by Rowe and Athenahealth corroborate our own data from a 2015 survey of our partner clinics in Washington State. Responses came from 44 sites around the state representing 14 community health centers that had been using the EyePACS system for 1-2 years. The staffs were asked about patient satisfaction and compliance with the annual retinal screening program in general, as well as about staff satisfaction and other questions.
Seventy-seven percent of patients were reported to have been “pleased and satisfied” to be given the opportunity for screening with the cloud-based system, while 23% were characterized as “neutral.” Patient response to the telehealth retinal exam procedure itself was similar, as reported by the health centers: 80% were pleased and satisfied with the exam, while 20% had no observable response. Forty percent of participating clinics indicated their patients used the words “quick” and/or “easy” to describe the exam in the primary care visit.
We will continue to measure the effectiveness of the EyePACS telemedicine solution to detect diabetic retinopathy and prevent vision loss from the disease. In the meantime, it’s reinforcing to know that other reputable health organizations are finding similar results in terms of patient engagement and satisfaction.