Objective: To assess the use of remote telemedicine ophthalmology in patients presenting to an emergency department with acute eye problems.
Design: A prospective review from 1 December 1996 to 28 February 1997 of referral patterns and telemedicine consultations, comparing referral patterns with the same period one year before.
Participants and setting: 24 patients presenting to the emergency department of a remote base hospital in Queensland with an acute ophthalmological problem requiring a specialist opinion.
Main outcome measures: Clinical outcomes; use of the Patient Transit Scheme for isolated patients; acceptability to patients and doctors; and ophthalmologists' opinions of the system.
Results: No adverse outcomes were identified. Patients transferred for urgent assessment fell from 17 for the corresponding period in the previous year to four during the study period, while respective numbers of patients requiring non-urgent transfers (for surgery or postoperative review) during the same periods were 41 and 30. Both patients and staff (including the ophthalmologists) found the telemedicine facility very acceptable.
Conclusion: Ophthalmology is well suited to telemedicine for the diagnosis and management of acute conditions and postoperative assessment of patients in remote areas. It offers considerable potential benefits to patients, and enhances the skills of local practitioners.