Access to eye screening is needed in remote communities
Left undiagnosed and untreated, eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss or total blindness, which can affect a person’s mobility, overall health and quality of life.
Eye screening can help detect eye problems early and enable timely treatment. But in regional and remote areas of Australia, access to regular eye screening can be limited.
Those most at risk in rural and remote areas, such as Indigenous and older Australians, can often succumb to otherwise treatable eye conditions, eliciting a critical need for remote screening technology.
We've developed new low-cost screening technology
Our researchers at the Australian eHealth Research Centre have developed a low-cost remote telehealth system, called Remote-I, to screen people at risk of eye disease.
Remote-I can capture full high-resolution images of a patient’s retina with a special low-cost camera.
The encrypted images are then securely forwarded to a city-based ophthalmologist via a broadband connection for examination, overcoming the need for patients to travel for a live consultation.
Remote-I’s built-in comparisons for various eye diseases can also help local care providers identify people in need of urgent treatment, enabling patients with healthy eyes to avoid filling waiting lists.
Delivering telehealth systems across Australia
With funding from the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing, we trialled Remote-I in three regional and remote locations across Australia. It was one of the first trials to investigate the practical delivery of health services using telecommunications in rural areas in Australia.
Working with partners Western Australian Health, WA Country Health Service and the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists’ IRIS program, the Remote-I trial screened more than 1,000 patients, and accurately identified 82 cases of diabetic retinopathy, along with 60 cases of diabetic macular odema.
The study found patients were highly satisfied with the Remote-I system, and saved them money they would have spent travelling for specialist eye screening. It also demonstrated that routine (rather than opportunistic) eye examinations are feasible for the early detection of some eye diseases for remote and rural patients.
After achieving successful results in Australia, the CSIRO licenced Remote-I, along with our AI-based screening software, to company TeleMedC.
What’s next for Remote-I?
With funding from the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia, and in collaboration with Queensland Health, we will be looking at validating and establishing tele-ophthalmology services and AI-based image reading in locations in rural and remote Northern Australia.