Telemedicine catches ROP, NEI study finds

July 25, 2014

A National Eye Institute (NEI) study found that telemedicine can effectively screen for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and could potentially ease the strain on hospitals with limited access to ophthalmologists.

A National Eye Institute (NEI) studyfound that telemedicine can effectively screen for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and could potentially ease the strain on hospitals with limited access to ophthalmologists.

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The study evaluated telemedicine for ROP screening during the care of 1,257 premature babies. Every nine days or so, each infant was screened by an ophthalmologist, who assessed whether referral treatment was warranted. Either immediately before or after that exam, a staff member took photos of babies’ eyes, which were sent to a secure server at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City for evaluation by staff who were trained to recognize signs of severe ROP. The staff then made recommendations on whether the infant should be referred to an eyecare professional for further treatment.

The non-physician image readers in Oklahoma City correctly identified 90 percent of the infants that needed a referral based on examination by an ophthalmologist, and they correctly identified 87 percent of the infants who did not need a referral. The examining ophthalmologists documented 244 infants with ROP who needed a referral on exam, 162 of whom were treated. Of these, non-physician image readers identified ROP that warranted a referral in all but three infants (98 percent).

According to NEI, some signs of ROP appear in about half of infants born at or before 30 weeks, but only five to eight percent of those cases become severe enough to require treatment. 

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