Telehealth Can Help Detect Eye Condition in Premature Infants

June 30, 2014 in News

Telemedicine can help detect a potentially harmful eye condition often seen in infants born 10 or more weeks premature, according to a new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, MedCity News reports.

Details of Study

During the study, researchers evaluated the ability of telemedicine to screen for an eye disease called retinopathy of prematurity — or ROP — which affects infants born 10 or more weeks prematurely and can cause blindness. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends screening for the condition.

Symptoms for the condition can be detected through a visual examination of infants’ eyes.

The telemedicine strategy analyzed in the study consisted of electronically sending pictures of infants’ eyes to a distant image-reading center. The center’s employees — who were trained to recognize severe ROP symptoms — then analyzed the photos and identified whether or not infants should see an ophthalmologist for diagnosis and possible treatment.

The study included data on 1,257 premature infants born an average of 13 weeks early (Baum, MedCity News, 6/27). The data were collected between May 2011 and October 2013 from 13 neonatal intensive care units in North America (Quinn et al., JAMA Ophthalmology, 6/26).

Study Findings

The study found that telemedicine helped identify 43% of advanced ROP cases before they were identified by an ophthalmologist.

Further, in a random sample of photos of 100 infants who had referral-warranted ROP and 100 who did not, the study found:

  • Physicians correctly detected 86% of ROP cases that required referrals;
  • Non-physicians correctly detected 91% of ROP cases that required referrals;
  • Physicians correctly detected 57% of ROP cases that did not require referrals; and
  • Non-physicians correctly detected 73% of ROP cases that did not require referrals (MedCity News, 6/27).

The study noted that its results “provide strong support for the validity of remote evaluation by trained non-physician readers of digital retinal images taken by trained non-physician imagers from infants at risk” for ROP (JAMA Ophthalmology, 6/26).

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