(Boston, Mass.) — Ophthalmologists at Boston Medical Center (BMC) are now able to better detect diabetic retinopathy and prevent further damage to the retina with a new Retinal Imaging Program. Simple, quick and available on a walk-in basis without an appointment, this retinal photography procedure aids in the early detection of retinopathy, and can easily be done when the patient is at the hospital for a primary care visit, just like a blood test or x-ray.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the blood vessels of the retina. Blood vessels deteriorate, causing leakage of fluid from the vessels into the central part of the retina, called the macula (hence the name maculopathy), leading to blurred vision. In a more severe type of retinopathy called proliferative retinopathy, new fragile blood vessels grow and often bleed. This bleeding causes scarring and may lead to blindness.
“Most visual loss can be prevented with early treatment, but this pre-supposes that patients with diabetes obtain examination of the retina in a timely fashion,” said Edward Feinberg, MD, MPH, an associate clinical professor of Ophthalmology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). Nationwide, only half of all patients with diabetes meet clinical guidelines for annual retina examinations.
Feinberg and his colleague, V. R. LaRocca, MD, MPH, a research associate at BUSM, found that similar to national levels, about 67 percent of diabetic patients at BMC obtain annual retina examinations. “Our goal is to achieve retinal examinations rates of over 90 percent for diabetic patients under the care of our primary care doctors.”
With retinal photography, a doctor is provided with a photographic record of the major internal eye structures, presenting a wider, complete and more detailed view which enables the doctor to better detect and treat subtle changes in the retina. According to Feinberg, the procedure aids in this early detection and is quite simple. “In the past, many patients were not being seen because of the need to make an appointment for a complete exam and return on a different day. Now it can all be done in 15 minutes without dilating drops.”
“In addition to eliminating preventable blindness, knowledge of the retinopathy status of an individual is a critical link in the comprehensive care process,” added Feinberg. “The changes in the retinal vessels, which are uniquely visible, reflect the changes in the blood vessels in other less readily examined organs. Knowledge of the status and rate of change affects management decisions in diabetes, hypertension and lipid abnormalities – and vice versa.”