For better or for worse, digital screening technologies are here to stay. While that may mean optometrists have to deal with online refraction companies and internet-based frames distributors siphoning business away from their dispensaries, it can also provide opportunities. For instance, portable screening tools and access to tele-ophthalmology is playing a vital role in early diagnosis and treatment of ocular conditions such as glaucoma and, especially, diabetic retinopathy, for people in rural areas, according to new research published in The British Journal of Ophthalmology.1 And, it’s a cost saver.

The Canadian and American team of investigators sought to evaluate the economics of tele-ophthalmology, a research aspect of this growing field that is lacking. That’s what drove them to conduct a review of 20 cost-related articles. Sixteen articles were retained for a narrative review.

The results show that tele-ophthalmology is a cost-saving approach to treatment, especially in the case of patients with diabetic retinopathy, a disease that can affect more than 25% of rural diabetes patients in the United States, according to a 2010 study.1,2 In contrast, only 22% of rural diabetes patients in that research developed diabetic retinopathy.

“The most important determinant of cost-effectiveness of tele-ophthalmology was the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy among patients screened, indicating an increase of cost savings with the increase of screening rates,” the report said. It also noted that teleophthalmology for glaucoma was more cost-effective compared with an in-person examination.

1. Sharafeldin N, Kawaguchi A, Sundaram A, et al. Review of economic evaluations of teleophthalmology as a screening strategy for chronic eye disease in adults. Br J Ophthalmol. 21 April 2018. Accessed May 24, 2018.
2. Hale N, Bennett K, Probst J. Diabetes care and outcomes: disparities across rural America. J Community Health. 2010 Aug;35(4):365-74.