AOA leaders question telemedicine screenings for ROP
A recent study, funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), analyzed the effectiveness of telemedicine in detecting retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP. But AOA leaders question whether telemedicine is the best diagnostic method.
"Rely on local doctors of optometry who have the training, capacity and licensing to provide these needed evaluations"
For the study, the telemedicine strategy required that a photograph of the babies' eyes be sent electronically to a distant image reading center. Staff at this center—trained to recognize signs of ROP—identified if an infant should be referred to an ophthalmologist for evaluation and further treatment, if necessary.
The study looked at how accurately the telemedicine strategy was able to reproduce the conclusions the ophthalmologists made after examining the infants on-site.
If used broadly, researchers say that the telemedicine approach could lead to better care for infants in underserved areas and ease the strain on hospitals with limited access to ophthalmologists.
The study did not consider other alternatives, including on-site examination by optometrists available in almost every community.
Optometry's role in ROP screening and diagnosis
AOA leaders are concerned with the outcome of the study—which relies solely on the expertise of ophthalmologists—and telemedicine screenings in general.
"While the recent report on telemedicine and ROP strayed well off-course," says Michael Dueñas, O.D., AOA's chief public health officer, "it did zero in on the root cause of the problem: There simply aren't enough licensed ophthalmologists to physically assess the eyes of newborn babies, particularly those born prematurely. And, this shortcoming has left too many babies unnecessarily vulnerable to undetected eye problems that could cause permanent vision loss stemming from preventable and often-treatable conditions, such as ROP."
Dr. Dueñas points to an alternative. "Rather than getting involved with a potentially cumbersome, expensive, and potentially risky telemedicine system, America's hospitals can and should instead turn to a simpler, more cost-effective solution that's better for the health of children: Rely on local doctors of optometry who have the training, capacity and licensing to provide these needed evaluations," he adds.