UW Health Teleophthalmology program receives $4.4 M grant to help prevent diabetic eye disease – WKOW


MADISON (WKOW) — The CDC says nearly 40 million Americans have diabetes, and one in four them will develop some form of blindness from diabetic eye disease, the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. 
Though 90% of these cases are preventable with early intervention, according to a 1970s study at UW-Madison by Matthew Davis, seeing an eye doctor can be a challenge, especially in rural communities.
This is where Dr. Yao Liu, an ophthalmologist and director of the UW Health Teleophthalmology Program, hopes to help.
Teleophthalmology is a form of telehealth, a newer form of health care that uses computers and phones to make meeting with care providers easier and more convenient. With teleophthalmology, eye specialists are able to evaluate patients’ eyes without the patient needing to commute long distances.
The teleophthalmology program, which began at Juneau County’s Mile Bluff Medical Center in 2015, allowed patients with diabetes to have their eyes photographed with specialized cameras in their primary care clinic. The images were then sent to eye doctors in Madison who checked for diabetic eye disease.
This program has been a great success, with more than 1,200 patients receiving vision-saving eye care since the program’s inception and diabetic eye screening rates maintaining a 35% increase at Mile Bluff Medical Center for over three years.
“This represents a major improvement in diabetic eye screening rates, where the health system was performing seriously below the national average, and now is in the top quartile of health systems nationally, and even in the top 10% of health systems here in Wisconsin,” Dr. Liu said.
Due to the success of the program, several other Wisconsin health systems have partnered with the program to create their own teleophthalmology programs, with 10 specialized cameras located in four health centers across Wisconsin, including UW Health, Fort Health Care, Reedsburg Area Medical Center, and Mile Bluff Medical Center.
In September 2021, the UW Health Teleophthalmology Program received a $4.4 million grant for their new study, which will build upon their previous to increase diabetic eye screenings in rural communities. As part of this study, they’re partnering with sites outside of Wisconsin, including ones in Ohio, Colorado, New York and Vermont. They’re also having discussions with health systems in Alabama, California, Tennessee and Texas.
When asked about the goal of the new study, Liu’s response was similar to the goal of the original program at Mile Bluff but with a much greater scale.
“We are working to prevent blindness in patients with diabetes by helping them get their eyes checked, for people who may not have easy access to eye care,” Dr. Liu said. “We’d like to see similar results across a variety of health systems systems, and also to learn about what factors may predict the effectiveness of the eyesight program, such as differences in health systems and clinics in different parts of the country.”
You can learn more about the UW Health Teleophthalmology program at eyephoto.wisc.edu.
Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here