Teleophthalmology Screening for Diabetic Retinopathy in Brazil: Applicability and Economic Assessment

de Souza GF, Figueira RM, Alkmim MBM, de Sousa LAP, Bonisson L, Ribeiro ALP, Vasconcelos-Santos DV.  Teleophthalmology Screening for Diabetic Retinopathy in Brazil: Applicability and Economic Assessment. Telemed J E Health. 2019 Apr 17. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2018.0241. [Epub ahead of print]

Introduction: Early diagnosis and prompt therapy of diabetic retinopathy (DR) are essential to prevent visual loss, but access of the diabetic population to regular fundus examination by an ophthalmologist remains a challenge.

Methods: This prospective comparative study, including two referral health centers in the state of Minas Gerais, Southeastern Brazil, assesses applicability and economic viability of fundus photography-based teleophthalmology screening for DR.

Results: A total of 2,662 eyes of 1,331 patients were examined at both health centers. Mean age was 57 years, with 836 (62.8%) females. Quality of fundus photographs was acceptable for 2,398 eyes (90.1%). The presence of DR was disclosed in 394 patients (29.6%), with 28 patients (2.1%) presenting evidence of advanced disease (severe nonproliferative or proliferative DR). Economic assessment revealed cost reduction of 28.76 US$ per patient, with a calculated break-even point of 112 exams/month or 1,344 exams/year.

Conclusions:For the situation studied under the perspective of public health service, teleophthalmology was viable and cost effective when compared with ordinary ophthalmology examination. In addition, teleophthalmology allowed rapid resolution of repressed demand for fundus examination of diabetic patients locally at the two sites, with early DR diagnoses and referrals. Fundus photography-based teleophthalmology was a viable, effective, and significantly cheaper strategy for the screening of DR.


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