Improving eye care with telemedicine

Computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have teamed up with a group of medical professionals to advance the use of telemedicine.

NIST and the American Telemedicine Association developed technical standards related to the diagnosis and treatment of diabetic retinopathy, which is a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness.

Telemedicine helps patients to have access to health care professionals electronically, whatever their location. It can provide fast, affordable service to people who live in isolated areas or are unable to travel.

The standards and associated guidelines are related to images of the eye that help doctors decide what problems exist and how to treat them. The standards cover how to "capture" the images, which is similar to taking a photograph. Additionally, the standards provide specific procedures for storing the images electronically, sending them across telecommunications networks and interpreting them.

The standards focus on the quality of the images rather than on what kind of cameras or film must be used. This approach gives health care professionals flexibility in choosing equipment.

The associated guidelines address issues such as who is qualified to take an image and who is qualified to interpret it. Members of the American Telemedicine Association are now reviewing the draft standard before it becomes final. Once adopted, the standards will apply to eye care professionals and equipment vendors.

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