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Diabetic Eye Screening Exam at Primary Care Visits Could Help Detect Blindness

Patients With Diabetes Encouraged to Ask About Retinopathy Screening Exam

North Country primary care doctors who have potentially sight-saving equipment made available through Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization (FDRHPO) are encouraging patients with diabetes to inquire about diabetic retinopathy screening during their next visit to their primary care provider.

“If you have diabetes and your doctor has the technology to perform these screenings, it could mean the difference between saving your sight and blindness,” explains Robert Hunt, FDRHPO’s Fiber Network Manager, Telemedicine Network Program Coordinator. “If you aren’t offered this screening exam during your primary care visit, feel free to ask about it. The technology is available in many North Country practices.”

In 2018, FDRHPO launched a new regional diabetic teleretinopathy program for utilization by primary care practices in the tri-county region, improving vision health for diabetic patients. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in which high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels in their eye’s retina, leading to vision disorders and blindness.

“Diabetes is one of the most pervasive chronic diseases in our region, affecting 11% of adults in the tri-county area,” said Steven Lyndaker, FDRHPO Medical Director. “This statistic becomes more alarming when we see that only 55% of North Country residents with diabetes had a dilated eye exam in the past year – significantly less than the statewide average of 74.5%. This technology will ease the burden on patients who would otherwise travel for this kind of specialty care, and it will also encourage new patients to get screened.”

Initial funding for the program was instrumental in bringing this technology to our region, preventing long-distance travel to specialty providers, and detecting problems early giving treatment a chance to be more effective. An Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Member and Community Health Improvement (MACHI) grant and funding from Senator Patty Ritchie helped to establish this sight-saving technology in the North Country.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Member and Community Health Improvement grant program provides funding to local, nonprofit organizations that share the organization’s vision for healthier communities. The initiatives supported span multiple years and include specific objectives and measurable outcomes for improving community health.

“We are proud to partner with FDRHPO to bring this valuable technology to our community,” said Eve Van de Wal, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Utica Regional President. “By leveraging and coordinating our resources, we hope to continue to improve the care provided to those in our community with diabetes and prevent unnecessary complications through early detection and intervention.”

“Through early detection and intervention, we hope to prevent unnecessary blindness and complications for patients who have diabetes,” continues Dr. Lyndaker. “The eye exam takes less than five minutes to perform and does not require dilation for 85-90% of patients. It can be performed during a routine primary care visit and is noninvasive. This five-minute intervention can be life changing, as early detection will prevent vision loss in 95% of diabetic retinopathy cases.”

Currently, 28 primary care practices and clinics participate in the program. To learn more, follow this link. It could be help save your sight.

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