Evaluation of telemedicine for screening of diabetic retinopathy in the Veterans Health Administration

Ophthalmology. 2013 Dec;120(12):2604-2610. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2013.06.029. Epub 2013 Sep 29.


Objective: To explore the cost-effectiveness of telemedicine for the screening of diabetic retinopathy (DR) and identify changes within the demographics of a patient population after telemedicine implementation.

Design: A retrospective medical chart review (cohort study) was conducted.

Participants: A total of 900 type 1 and type 2 diabetic patients enrolled in a medical system with a telemedicine screening program for DR.

Methods: The cost-effectiveness of the DR telemedicine program was determined by using a finite-horizon, discrete time, discounted Markov decision process model populated by parameters and testing frequency obtained from patient records. The model estimated the progression of DR and determined average quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) saved and average additional cost incurred by the telemedicine screening program.

Main outcome measures: Diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, blindness, and associated QALYs.

Results: The results indicate that telemedicine screening is cost-effective for DR under most conditions. On average, it is cost-effective for patient populations of >3500, patients aged <80 years, and all racial groups. Observable trends were identified in the screening population since the implementation of telemedicine screening: the number of known DR cases has increased, the overall age of patients receiving screenings has decreased, the percentage of nonwhites receiving screenings has increased, the average number of miles traveled by a patient to receive a screening has decreased, and the teleretinal screening participation is increasing.

Conclusions: The current teleretinal screening program is effective in terms of being cost-effective and increasing population reach. Future screening policies should give consideration to the age of patients receiving screenings and the system's patient pool size because our results indicate it is not cost-effective to screen patients aged older than 80 years or in populations with <3500 patients.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / diagnosis*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / economics*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / etiology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs
  • Health Plan Implementation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / economics
  • Mass Screening / organization & administration
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Telemedicine / economics*
  • Telemedicine / organization & administration
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / economics*
  • Veterans Health