The Staffordshire Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Service, a community based digital eye screening programme designed to detect and treat diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world, is on track to exceed its target of screening over 35,000 diabetes patients this year.
The county-wide screening programme was one of the first in the country to be launched in March 2006 and screened over 28,000 diabetes patients across Staffordshire during its first year of operations to March 2007. The Service is now averaging 4,000 patient screenings per month leaving it well on track to exceed its target of screening 36,000 patients by March 2008. And as well as reaching out to an ever-increasing number of diabetes patients, the Service has also introduced a unique hospital choice system.
The Staffordshire Diabetic Retinopathy Service is hosted and run by South Staffordshire Primary Care Trust on behalf of the three primary care trusts in the county (South Staffordshire, North Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent). Community screening clinics are held in 60 optometrist practices across Staffordshire which are using OptoMize iP, an innovative digital imaging software and electronic patient records system developed by Digital Healthcare, a Cambridge company that is the UK’s leading supplier of specialist diabetic retinopathy screening software.
The Service is responsible for the care of around 41,000 diabetes patients who are invited to attend a screening clinic at an optometrist practice near to their homes. An optometrist takes a digital photograph of the back of their eyes and uses Digital Healthcare’s software to grade (review) the digital images to establish whether they are normal or whether the patient is suffering from diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness if left untreated. Urgent cases are referred for hospital treatment while patients that require non-urgent follow-up are given a choice of attending an ophthalmology clinic in six hospitals.
Malcolm Gray, an optometrist and Clinical Director of the Screening Service, said: “We are delighted with the success of the Staffordshire screening programme and I would like to acknowledge the dedicated support and commitment of all the optometrists involved in enabling us to screen so many diabetes patients.
“Diabetes is the commonest cause of blindness in the working population and digital imaging is recognised as the most effective way to detect diabetic retinopathy early on when it can be treated. The new system provided by Digital Healthcare is allowing us to reach out to the diabetic community by facilitating easy access to screening appointments in a range of locations. We can also use the software to compare images over time to track any changes in eye condition.”
The Staffordshire Screening Service has taken the decision to offer patients a choice of six hospitals for follow-up treatment although the screening programme is exempt from national guidelines that require patients to have a choice of up to four hospitals for treatment.
Mr Gray commented: “We decided to implement specialist software so that we could offer this additional element of patient choice and we are finding that it really boosts patient engagement in the screening and treatment process. Patients appreciate having the opportunity to select the hospital for their treatment and when they contact us we are also able to explain the next steps in their treatment.”
Jim Lythgow, Sales & Marketing Director at Digital Healthcare, said: “The Staffordshire Diabetic Retinopathy Service can be regarded as a model screening programme. It was launched on time, is running to budget and we understand that it is now one of the largest digital screening services in the country. We congratulate Malcolm Gray and his team, and the optometrists involved, on their substantial achievements over the past 16 months and look forward to continuing to work with them.”
Malcolm Gray commented on future plans for the Service: “We are pleased with what has been achieved to date and, having undertaken an audit of the programme, we are now looking at ways to expand delivery so that even more diabetes patients can be offered access to digital screening appointments that could save their sight.”
“The ability to share information via telemedicine is also a key benefit of this innovative software system. A number of our optometrists use a secure broadband connection to submit images for secondary review by optometrists that have received specialist clinical training. We hope to extend our broadband connection so that all of the optometrists involved in the Screening Service can submit images in this way.”
Diabetes currently affects 1.8 million people in the UK and that figure is expected to increase to over 3m people by 2010.
The Staffordshire Diabetic Retinopathy Service is part of a national screening programme set up by the Department of Health which requires 100% of the diabetic population to have had access to a digital scan of their eyes by the end of 2007.