A study conducted by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in the US has shown that telemedicine can accurately and effectively detect a rare type of eye disease that causes blindness in premature babies.
Called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), the condition is due to abnormal growth of blood vessels near the retina, leading to blindness in around 400 to 600 babies per year in the US.
Researchers believe that the new digital approach can allow appropriate treatment to prevent blindness in infants born in areas with few ophthalmologists trained to identify ROP.
OHSU School of Medicine ophthalmology professor Michael Chiang said: “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.”
In the study, the researchers formed alliances with seven medical institutions to assess the eyes of 281 infants who were at risk for ROP.
The accuracy of wide-angle telemedicine eye images remotely examined by professionals was compared to that of in-person exams that are carried out using a magnifying device to observe a baby’s dilated eye.
It was found that both the evaluation approaches had similar outcomes in terms of overall accuracy.
While in-person examination was observed to be ‘slightly better’ at accurate detection of the ROP’s later-stage development, the researchers concluded telemedicine can diagnose clinically significant cases of the condition.
According to reports from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, ROP affects around 16,000 babies in the US.