Healthcare innovation

A new vision for diabetic eye screening…

A new vision for diabetic eye screening…

IDx-DR exam

IDx-DR exam

Like it was for many people, 2021 didn’t start out great for 47-year-old Betsy Huffman of Bloomington, Illinois. Her new year began with a long recovery from a December 2020 hospital stay connected with complications from undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

Huffman then suffered a mild stroke earlier this year. Her follow-up treatment involved trips to a cardiologist and a pulmonologist. It’s difficult for her to discuss without crying. Huffman’s mother also had diabetes, so she knew the difficult lifestyle changes and new medications she faced. Changes Huffman knew she’d have to stick to for the rest of her life. That’s also why, admittedly, she kept putting off yet another trip to a medical office to get a dilated eye exam to check for diabetic retinopathy – the number one cause of blindness in the U.S.

Huffman, who is a legal assistant at a Bloomington law firm, experienced blurry vision at times, but chalked it up as a response to new medications. Despite the repeated urging of her OSF HealthCare primary care doctor, Huffman ignored getting her eyes checked for retinopathy – until recently. New high-tech screening equipment arrived at her primary care office and after a regular check-up, all Huffman had to do was walk down the hall for her screening. An excited care team cheered her on, telling Huffman she could be the first to use the new equipment. Huffman had time off from work so, no more excuses.

“I just didn’t want to face it. I don’t know. Being blind is a fear though. That’s why I’m glad they did this because like I said it gave me a push because I probably still would not have made that appointment yet.” 

Maintaining good blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels helps prevent diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema. OSF Innovation regularly seeks to understand the pain points and experiences of our frontline care givers and patients. With the knowledge that many patients with diabetes were not getting regular dilated eye exams from an ophthalmologist, OSF Innovation researched solutions and launched a pilot with Digital Diagnostics, a company that received the first-ever Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance of IDx-DR, a digital diagnostic tool. The technology takes photos of the back of retina and uses artificial intelligence to evaluate the extent of damage to blood vessels. The screening typically takes a few minutes and in most, but not all cases, doesn’t require eyes be dilated.

Unfortunately, Huffman’s screening showed positive for being at risk of diabetic retinopathy. While she’s scared of what’s to come, Huffman now has a follow-up appointment with an ophthalmologist for more in-depth screening to determine if additional monitoring or treatment is needed. Huffman has no regrets about learning her risk.

“The fact that it was right there and to be able to do it and get it over with … it’s a good thing!” 

Michael Mansfield, a medical office assistant with OSF, is passionate about this screening effort. He recently delivered a report to Kimberly Hart, a patient diagnosed with diabetes within in the past 12 months.

“This is your diagnostic result – no diabetic retinopathy detected, so no referral needed to an ophthalmologist, so that’s great. Next steps, we’re gonna re-test in 12 months,” he tells her. Hart responds, “Ok.” 

Hart admits she’s still coming to terms with her diabetes diagnosis and the lifestyle changes it requires, but this screening comes as much-needed good news.diabetic retinopathy image

“That is awesome news. I don’t want to have those diseases related to my diabetes so I’m pretty excited about that and I’m glad you get the results right away. You don’t have to wait, (she laughs).” 

OSF HealthCare launched the diabetic eye screening in eight primary care locations starting in May. Among the 147 OSF patients with diabetes tested using IDx-DR, 21% had a positive result for risk of diabetic retinopathy.

OSF Innovation finds solution to a growing problem

Dr. Mark Meeker, vice president of Community Medicine at OSF HealthCare, says the number of people with diabetes receiving treatment is growing to tens of thousands across the OSF Ministry. Most primary care providers aren’t proficient in giving dilated eye exams because it isn’t part of routine visits. Yet many patients with diabetes put off going to an additional appointment at a different office to get a dilated eye exam every year or two.

Dr. Meeker says he recently saw a patient who put off the eye screening because he gets docked for every absence from work, even if it’s for a legitimate reason such as a doctor’s visit. So, with busy schedules and work realities, Dr. Meeker stresses it’s important to make screening as convenient as possible. IDx-DR makes in-office screening quick and easy, plus it uses artificial intelligence to help assess risk for diabetic-related eye damage – so it’s much more accurate than a typical eye exam.

He explains, “The AI can see the early changes of diabetic retinopathy that we may not be able to see with our own eyes. If the AI sees that, it (the result) is then sent to an ophthalmologist for over read to confirm the answer, ‘yes’  for diabetic retinopathy changes and to what degree are those changes. Then, the appropriate referrals can be made.” 

Screening in primary care offers a one-stop shop, approach for patients, but Dr. Meeker says it also off-loads screening exams from extremely busy eye doctors so they can focus on treating already-diagnosed conditions. It also helps medical providers know their patient’s better so they can help them keep their diabetes under control and stay on top of eye care to avoid complications.

Dr. Meeker says seeing is believing for some patients who get to see the photos taken during the exam and potential areas of concern the images reveal.

“So the ophthalmologists have tremendous technologies to treat diabetic retinopathy now with lasers and whatnot. But there’s nothing as good as prevention. And the way you prevent it is to tightly control the diabetes to begin with. So as soon as we see those retinopathy changes, if we can really get the attention of the patient to really pay attention to their sugar control, we can decrease that progression through prevention, not just through treatment.” 

OSF HealthCare should learn later this summer if it receives a grant that would cover costs for two years of training to expand the new, high-tech diabetic eye screening from eight primary care offices to additional sites in communities served by OSF.

Diabetic Retinopathy (IDx-DR) Screening is currently available at these OSF Medical Group Sites

OSF Medical Group, Alton OSF Medical Group, on Glen Park in Peoria
OSF Medical Group, College Avenue in Bloomington OSF Medical Group, Illinois Route 91 in Peoria
OSF Medical Group, Galesburg OSF Medical Group, Streator
OSF Medical Group, Loves Park OSF Medical Group, Washington