How to Explain the Diabetic Retinopathy Exam to Patients


By Kathy Finch

The IRIS (Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems) team is passionate and dedicated to empowering our clients to end preventable blindness. In fact, ending preventable blindness is our company mission.

At IRIS, we focus on diabetic retinopathy (DR) which is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults and is preventable if detected early enough to be treated.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that occurs when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. The affected blood vessels can swell and leak, or they can close, preventing blood from passing through. 

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy is often asymptomatic meaning a person could have DR and be entirely unaware. As DR worsens, patients may notice symptoms like blurred vision or dark spots.

(See the infographic from American Optometric Association)

What is the best way to ensure early detection of diabetic retinopathy?

The short answer is to get regular (at least once per year) diabetic retinal evaluations.

Patients with diabetes should have an annual diabetic retinal evaluation as a preventive measure. Retinal evaluations can detect conditions before patients notice any changes to their vision. The evaluation is part of a comprehensive diabetic check that keeps patients and providers on the same page in understanding and how diabetes is affecting their overall health.

Eye pathology is a key health indicator in high-risk patients. Capturing and assessing the photo of a patient’s retina enables their provider to customize a care plan that keeps them as healthy as possible.

For most patients with diabetes, it’s a matter of when not if they will develop retinopathy. Managing a chronic illness like diabetes can be overwhelming as it is an illness that can impact many different areas of the body. Patients may not be aware of the correlation between eye disease and diabetes which is why patient education is imperative.

Here are a few reasons why your patient might not be getting regular diabetic retinopathy evaluations:

  • Little to no awareness of how diabetes can affect their vision
  • They feel they don’t require a retinal evaluation because their vision is fine
  • The guilt associated with failure to control their blood sugars
  • Unaware an evaluation can be completed during regular provider appointment
  • Fear of discomfort during their evaluation
  • Confusion between a vision evaluation for glasses and a diabetic eye evaluation

Working with IRIS to preserve your patient’s vision

The diabetic retinopathy evaluation looks at the back of a person’s eye, also known as the retina. As previously noted, when eye disease is caught early, healthcare providers can help patients better control their diabetes and slow the progression of vision loss.  IRIS can be an excellent resource to support you in understanding more about the diabetic eye exam.

An IRIS partnership allows patients with diabetes to get a DRE during their routine primary care office visits. Providing diabetic retinal evaluations as a standard of care for your patients is a best practice that leads to improving patient outcomes.

Remember the significance of the DRE when discussing diabetes management with patients. You too can support IRIS’s mission to end preventable blindness.

Don’t forget to check out our previous article featuring IRIS women in leadership roles.

To learn more about how you can partner with IRIS to help save eyesight, contact us.

SM020, Rev A.

Get started with IRIS today.

Want to know if IRIS is right for you? Schedule a one-on-one consultation with our team. We’re here to help.