New Eye Care for Diabetics

By: Philip Stewart Email
By: Philip Stewart Email

August 9, 2007

Millions of Americans are living with Diabetes.

The disease can cause a number of complications, including serious vision problems.

People with diabetes have a greater than average risk for developing eye problems or even blindness. Still, many with diabetes never visit their eye doctor. Some don't have insurance, while others may not know the risks that come with diabetes.

But a clinic at UVA is using a new machine to educate people and to give them the eye screening they need.

The "Optomap" was installed earlier this year at University Medical Associates, the busiest clinic at UVA, which serves many under-served and uninsured patients.

"It's a screening tool for people with diabetes who find it difficult to get to the eye doctor yearly," Dr. John Leiner, an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UVA.

The machine takes a picture of the inside of the eye by quickly bouncing two lasers off the retina at the back of patients' eyes. It's simple and painless, and in seconds, the picture that can be electronically sent to Ophthalmologists.

"We decided that we really needed one because we found out that about half of our patients didn't go for eye exams ever," said Leiner.

It's an especially big problem since some 9,000 of the clinics patients have Diabetes, a disease that can lead to blindness if complications are not treated. Without a screening, it's often difficult for Diabetics to even realize there's a problem.

"It's not like you've stubbed your toe or hit your head and you feel a bruise," explained Sara Powell-Aldridge, the R.N. Care Coordinator. She says the loss of vision happens very slowly.

So far more than 170 patients have been screened. Fifteen to 20 percent had problems that could have otherwise gone undetected.

But now, thanks to the clinic and the "Optomap," patients are getting the treatment they need to preserve their vision.

"They can go out in their community and feel like they're supported and doing everything possible to make their lives better," said Powell-Aldridge.

Professionals said while the "Optomap" is a great tool, it still is best if patients can visit a regular eye doctor annually. But with the new machine the clinic is hoping to continue to be effective in educating their diabetic patients.

The UVA Health System is the first academic training facility in the nation to install this cutting-edge equipment. It's funded in part by the Commonwealth and the UVA Health System.

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