New study published in JAMA Ophthalmology assesses the efficacy of in-person eye exams vs telemedicine in treating retinopathy of prematurity, eye disease that causes blindness in premature babies.
The finding could enable more blindness-preventing treatment for infants born in rural and other areas where there are few ophthalmologists trained to detect the condition, called retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP. Musician Stevie Wonder went blind due to this condition. "A lack of access to trained ophthalmologists with experience diagnosing ROP sadly prevents many premature infants from receiving much-needed screening, both in developed and developing countries," said the study's lead researcher, Michael F. Chiang, M.D., a professor of ophthalmology and medical informatics & clinical epidemiology in the OHSU School of Medicine and a pediatric ophthalmologist at OHSU's Elks Children's Eye Clinic.
The study's first authors are Hilal Biten, M.D., and Travis Redd, M.D., M.P.H. Redd is an OHSU ophthalmology resident and Biten was a visiting OHSU scholar who now works at Ankara Numun Training and Research Hospital in Turkey. Retinopathy of prematurity is caused by abnormal blood vessel growth near the retina, the light-sensitive portion in the back of an eye. The National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health reports that while up to 16,000 U.S. babies experience the condition to some degree, only 400 to 600 become legally blind each year as a result.
The researchers found there was no difference in the overall accuracy between the two evaluation methods. In-person examiners were found to be slightly better at accurately diagnosing the condition's later-stage development, but the research team concluded telemedicine could be used to diagnose clinically significant cases of retinopathy of prematurity.