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Study Highlights Role for Non-Physicians in Preventing Childhood Blindness

Jul 14, 2014, 9:00 AM

A leading cause of preventable blindness in premature babies can be successfully identified by trained non-physician evaluators working remotely, according to a study published online by JAMA Ophthalmology. The number of ophthalmologists who conduct screenings for the condition, retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), has declined in the United States, while countries in parts of Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe have long-standing ophthalmologist shortages that contribute to high rates of childhood blindness caused by ROP.

“This study provides validation for a telemedicine approach to ROP screening and could help prevent thousands of kids from going blind,” lead investigator Graham E. Quinn, MD, MSCE, said in a news release from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he is a pediatric ophthalmologist.

The study involved retinal images taken by neonatal intensive care unit nurses and transmitted to trained image readers at a central location. Ophthalmologists had also examined the infants, and the image readers identified 90 percent of the infants the ophthalmologists had flagged as needing further evaluation.

“Telemedicine potentially gives every hospital access to excellent ROP screening,” said Quinn. 

Read the study in JAMA Ophthalmology

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.