A national diabetes eye screening program is to be implemented to reduce vision loss and blindness in people with diabetes. Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, with around 280 developing the disease each day.
Health Minister, Hon Greg Hunt MP, has committed AU$1 million in funding for year one to commence development of the Australian-first initiative, which was proposed by leading diabetes and eye health groups: Diabetes Australia, Specsavers, Vision 2020 Australia, and Oculo. Specsavers has committed $1 million a year for five years to support this critical initiative.
The program will make use of Oculo – an Australian developed clinical communications platform specifically for eye care – and a new public portal to be built to enable optometrists, ophthalmologists, GPs, endocrinologists and diabetes health care professionals to better coordinate patient care by creating electronic patient records that include retinal photos, and making sure patients receive appropriate notifications for regular eye tests.
We are confident that this new diabetes screening program will… dramatically increase the number of people with diabetes who are having their eyes checked
In light of recent data security concerns surrounding the government’s My Health Record, Kate Taylor, CEO of Oculo, reassured mivision that patient information contributed to the diabetes eye screening program would be securely stored.
“We know how important patient data security is. Our system uses an elaborate and thoroughly tested permission scheme that ensures any data entered by clinicians via the Oculo platform is seen only by those people for whom the patient has given consent to see it. We’ve implemented best practice security measures, including data encryption, network partitioning and access monitoring – all of which is regularly tested by a third party security firm. All of Oculo’s health data is stored in Australia.”
MAJOR STEP TO FIGHT BLINDNESS
The diabetes eye screening program has been hailed as a major step in the fight against diabetes related blindness and will enable early detection and treatment to protect the sight of over 1.2 million Australians living with diabetes. According to Vision 2020 Australia CEO Judith Abbott, it will “encourage people with diabetes to visit existing optometry services and specialist ophthalmic service providers for Medicarefunded eye checks and early interventions”.
Mr. Hunt stated, “Over the next five years, the program will alert an estimated 630,000 Australians with diabetes who are currently missing out on recommended eye checks”.
According to Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson, about 100,000 of these people are thought to be in need of treatment to protect their eye sight.
CREATING STRONGER E-HEALTH LINKAGES
Lyn Brodie, CEO of Optometry Australia said the program intent is to engage all Australian optometry service providers and create stronger e-health linkages between GPs and other healthcare providers and optometrists.
Indeed, mobilisation of the eye care and diabetes sectors would be critical to the success of the initiative, said Ms. Taylor. “Australia has had all of the pieces of the puzzle to have one of the best, if not the best, program in the world to prevent vision loss from diabetes, yet that roughly half of all people with diabetes don’t get their eyes appropriately examined hasn’t changed over decades.
“We are hoping with some ‘technology glue’ all of these pieces can work together. It is explicitly for this reason that the proposal included Vision 2020 Australia to reach out to the professions involved in eye care. We are also working with Optometry Australia and RANZCO so that they can work with their own members directly. We believe that the opportunity to make such a significant impact on the leading cause of avoidable blindness inspires clinicians to get involved.”
Peter Larsen, Optometry Director from Specsavers said, “the program is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when parties work together.
“Ninety-seven per cent of diabetic blindness is avoidable – however for diabetic eye disease to be detected and treated, regular checks are essential. We’ve seen that in the United Kingdom, very few people with diabetes go blind and that’s because there is strong public health messaging, and systematic screening supported by an integrated database accessible by health service providers. People with diabetes in the UK understand the risks associated with not being screened so they make sure they visit their eye health providers. This is not the case in Australia – despite our phenomenal health system, it is an area of error,” said Mr. Larsen. He continued, “We are confident that this new diabetes screening program will rectify this error and dramatically increase the number of people with diabetes who are having their eyes checked in the recommended time frames,” he said.
According to Dr. Peter van Wijngaarden from the Centre for Eye Research Australia and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, systematic eye check programs also dramatically reduced rates of diabetes-related blindness in Iceland, Poland and Sweden.
UNITED HEALTH MESSAGING ESSENTIAL TO SUCCESS
Mr. Larsen said strong communication campaigns would create awareness of the need for regular eye screening. “Specsavers looks forward to working with Diabetes Australia on proactive, targeted communications that encourage people to have timely eye checks to assist with early detection of problems and enable early treatment to save sight.
“This is not about driving people to Specsavers, we want to work with all optometry groups to encourage people with diabetes to take action.”
Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson welcomed government and industry support of the initiative. “Other industry partners are expected to contribute funding, and ongoing government funding will be sought for a five-year program.”