By Heidi Munson, MBA
Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) is the leading cause of preventable blindness for people 20 to 65 years of age in the United States. 29.1 million people or 9.3% of the population have diabetes, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that all patients with diabetes or pre-diabetes receive an annual retinal eye exam for DR. However, historically only 40-50% of the diabetic patient population receives this important annual test.
Why should primary care providers (PCP) care about Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic Blindness is Preventable.
While blindness from diabetes is irreversible, the good news is that vision loss from diabetes is almost completely preventable. Early detection and treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy reduces the risk of severe vision loss by 90%; however, according to prominent retinal surgeon and IRIS founder, Dr. Sunil Gupta, a high percentage of patients with diabetes never get screened.
“Retina specialists now utilize advanced therapies that virtually guarantee that patients do not have to lose their vision if detected early,” said Dr. Gupta. “We have spent over a decade developing effective pharmacological therapies that have changed the realities for diabetic patients with indications of eye disease.”
While the comprehensive annual dilated eye exam is still considered a standard of care for patients with diabetes, reality shows a majority of patients do not get an exam annually. By performing diabetic retinal exams as a routine annual diagnostic in primary care, providers identify more disease earlier in patients otherwise going untreated for pathology. Eye care providers gain access to these at-risk patients early and can reduce the risk of vision loss and improve outcomes for these patients.
According to the CDC’s 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report, “Diabetes can be treated and managed by healthful eating, regular physical activity, and medications to lower blood glucose levels. Another critical part of diabetes management is reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high lipid levels, and tobacco use. Patient education and self-care practices also are important aspects of disease management that help people with diabetes stay healthy.” With having the data from the annual eye exam documented as part of the patient’s medical record, primary care can also contribute to improved outcomes in vision and overall health and management of this patient population.
The annual retinal exam for diabetic eye disease is an important tool to monitor the overall health of diabetic populations. With recent advances in telemedical screening technology, these quick and simple eye tests can be administered in the primary care setting, driving up screening rates and reducing the number of patients with vision loss.