Teleophthalmology: a strategy for timely diagnosis of sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy in primary care, Concepción, Chile

Int J Ophthalmol. 2019 Sep 18;12(9):1474-1478. doi: 10.18240/ijo.2019.09.16. eCollection 2019.


Aim: To estimate the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy (DR) in a diabetic population of the public health system.

Methods: This non-experimental, descriptive and cross-sectional study, with no direct control over the variables analysed, was carried out by the Telemedicine Unit of the University of Concepción (TELMED) and the Family Health Centers (CESFAM) of the Health Service Concepción, Chile, among a population of 7382 diabetic patients of the public health system, from October 2014 to June 2015. Two digital images for each patient's eyes were obtained and uploaded to the TELMED tele-ophthalmology platform. The images were remotely evaluated by a retina expert ophthalmologist for diagnosis. Treatment and a referral (if required) were recommended, and an individualised report for each patient was sent to the place of origin.

Results: The prevalence of DR in this study was 14.9%. Of these, 48.7% had mild non-proliferative DR (NPDR), 30.8% moderate NPDR, 15.9% severe NPDR, and 4.6% proliferative DR. Of the patients with DR, 17.8% were referred for fluorescein angiography, 4.3% for panretinal photocoagulation, 1.2% for vitrectomy, and 0.4% for cataract surgery.

Conclusion: The use of telemedicine allowed an increased screening coverage for DR in diabetic patients. The different types of DR were detected in a timely manner, decreasing waiting times due to the lack of specialists in ophthalmology in the public health system.

Keywords: diabetes mellitus; diabetic retinopathy; ophthalmology; telemedicine; teleophthalmology.