Purpose: To test the feasibility of teleophthalmology applications in examining patients with glaucoma, test its use for training purposes in an ophthalmology residency program and as a consultation link between primary healthcare unit and university eye clinic, and to introduce a preliminary model for economic assessment of telemedicine application in ophthalmology.
Methods: A video slit-lamp, an automated perimeter, a nonmydriatic fundus camera and a videoconferencing system were installed in a healthcare center in a rural area. Twenty-nine patients with glaucoma were examined in the rural healthcare center instead of the university eye clinic. A control group consisted of 41 glaucoma patients examined at the eye clinic one year earlier. An ophthalmic resident examined the patients together with the local general practitioner. An interactive video consultation was created with the university glaucoma clinic using ISDN connections and special application software.
Results: Both patient groups were equally satisfied with the ophthalmic service. Nearly all patients in the telemedicine group (96%) wanted to have their next visit in their own healthcare center instead of the university clinic. The most important reasons were reduction in traveling (97%), costs (92%), and time (92%). The costs of the telemedicine and conventional visits were equal, but decreased traveling saved $55 per visit. However, the quality of the images obtained in the remote center was poorer than that of the images obtained at the university clinic.
Conclusion: The results of this pilot study indicate that further research with a larger number of patients is warranted to evaluate both methods, technology, and economics of teleophthalmology.