The Birmingham and Black Country Retinal Screening Programme is believed to be one of the largest retinal screening programmes in the world and will offer 90,000 diabetes patients access to an annual eye screen, with a digital photograph taken of the back of their eyes, at their high street optician or hospital clinic. The Screening Programme is using OptoMize iP, an innovative digital imaging software and electronic patient records system developed by Digital Healthcare, a Cambridge company that is the UK’s leading supplier of ophthalmology software.
The Screening Programme, co-ordinated by the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Centre at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, aims to reduce the risk of sight loss among diabetes sufferers by detecting and treating retinopathy at an early stage. The Programme currently includes 11 Primary Care Trusts which cover 90,000 diabetes patients, including children from the age of 12. These patients can choose to attend for their digital screening appointment at one of 96 optometrists (local optician practices) and eight hospitals across the region where Digital Healthcare’s OptoMize iP software has been installed on computers. However, patient numbers on the Programme are expected to rapidly increase, in line with the anticipated increase in the incidence of diabetes in the UK.
The formal launch of the Screening Programme was marked by a conference held recently at Birmingham’s Centennial Centre attended by over 300 medical staff involved in the treatment of diabetes. Delegates gained a detailed insight into the benefits of the Screening Programme from speakers including Dr Paul Dodson, Clinical Leader of the Screening Programme and Director of the Heart of England Retinopathy Screening Centre, and tried out Digital Healthcare’s software.
Dr Paul Dodson said: “Diabetes currently affects 1.8 million people in the UK and that figure is expected to increase to three million people by 2010. It causes damage to the small vessels at the back of the eye but this can be treated if it is caught early on. However, patients are often unaware that their eyes are affected until significant damage is done, by which time loss of vision can be permanent.”
“This digital screening system is the most effective way of identifying retinopathy as early as possible. Retinal photography has been proven to be an extremely sensitive and accurate method for detecting sight threatening disease and once we have used the software to grade images from patients, we can also carry out quality assurance checks. Using this system, we can store the images on a central server so that all the optometrists and clinicians involved in the Programme have secure and instant access to the images at any time and from different locations. This ease of access speeds up the diagnosis process and the referral of patients for urgent treatment where necessary.”
The Birmingham and Black Country Programme is part of a national screening programme set up by the Department of Health which requires 100% of the diabetic population to have had access to a digital scan of their eyes by 2007.
David Roy, Principal Retinal Screener at the Heart of England Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Centre of Excellence, commented: “The new technology offered by Digital Healthcare enables our Programme to comply with the national screening targets and allows our screening staff to carry out far more detailed examinations than were previously possible. We can also use this software to monitor for changes in eye condition that could signal deterioration by comparing images taken at different points in time.”
“The software contains an electronic patient records system covering all the patients on the Programme that is fully-automated so we can also generate follow-up letters to GPs or referrals to clinics straight after screening. It is great to make a difference to people’s quality of life by catching this disease early enough through the retinal screening programme.”
Rob Stichbury, Managing Director of Digital Healthcare, said: “The Birmingham and Black Country Strategic Health Authority Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme has been meticulously planned by Dr Dodson and the BBC team. We are delighted to be working closely with such an important Programme which has the potential to deliver substantial benefits to patients.”
“It is vital that diabetes patients have regular screening for diabetic retinopathy and our OptoMize iP software enables the Screening Programme to offer patients a choice of convenient locations to attend for eye screening. We hope that this will significantly increase the take-up rate and, as a consequence, the early detection and treatment of retinopathy.”
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