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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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New Technology Identifies Veterans at Risk for Diabetic Eye Disease

April 2, 2007

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After his primary care appointment with Nicholas Masozera, M.D., MEDVAMC Prime Care physician (right), U.S. Navy veteran Clendell Rundles (left) has his eyes screened for diabetic retinopathy by Misty Spratlan, MEDVAMC Teleretinal Imaging Ophthalmic assistant.
PHOTO: Bobbi D. Gruner, MEDVAMC Public Affairs Officer


HOUSTON – Many veterans with diabetes in southeast Texas are getting initial screening for possible eye disease during their primary care appointments at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) and the Beaumont VA Outpatient Clinic, thanks to a national teleretinal imaging program.

“Teleretinal imaging reduces delays for patients at risk having their eyes screened for diabetic retinopathy.  A few extra minutes of their time after their primary care appointments not only saves them a trip to the Eye Clinic, but might also save their vision,” said Nicholas Masozera, M.D., MEDVAMC Prime Care physician.

This new procedure does not take the place of a dilated eye exam. It is a good initial way, however, to identify patients at risk for visual loss from diabetes.

“Our goal is to see every veteran with diabetes once a year if there is any retinopathy and every two years if there is no evidence of retinopathy.  If any abnormalities are seen in the screening exams, the patient is automatically scheduled to been seen in the Eye Clinic in Houston,” said Silvia Orengo-Nania, M.D., MEDVAMC Eye Care Line executive.

According to their individual medical history and diagnoses, patients are scheduled automatically for the imaging by the VA’s Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS). The images of the retina taken at the primary care clinics are sent to an image reading center, where an eye care specialist determines the need for further care.

“The patients are delighted they do not have to make a separate visit to the VA. The results of their screenings are back in less than a week,” said Misty Spratlan, MEDVAMC Teleretinal Imaging Ophthalmic assistant.

Diabetic retinopathy causes 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year in the United States, making diabetes the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age.

“This cutting-edge technology will make a difference for our veterans. One out of every five VA patients has diabetes,” said Orengo-Nania.  “Early detection of retinal abnormalities is essential in preventing vision loss from diabetes.”

The VA’s teleretinal imaging program began the first of this year and expected to expand significantly in the coming year.  VA collaborated with the Department of Defense and the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston to implement the technology involving digital retinal imaging and remote image interpretations to assess for levels of diabetic retinopathy. This is another example of how VA has achieved efficiency and quality of care for its patients with diabetes that exceeds that in the private sector.

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