Technology Identifies Veterans at Risk for Diabetic Eye Disease

Secretary Nicholson: "Important Initiative for Veterans"
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America's Veterans


Feb 15, 2007 - WASHINGTON - Many veterans with diabetes are getting initial screening for possible eye disease during their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) primary care appointments, thanks to a national tele-retinal imaging program now in place at the majority of VA hospitals and clinics.

"This leading-edge technology will make a difference for our nation's veterans. One out of every five VA patients has diabetes," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson. "Early detection of retinal abnormalities is essential in preventing vision loss from diabetes. This is another example of VA's commitment to provide world-class care to our nation's veterans."

This new procedure, which screens patients for diabetic retinopathy, does not take the place of a dilated eye exam. Veterans with known retinopathy or laser treatment will be seen in eye clinics, along with high risk patients such as those with pregnancy or renal disease. The new procedure is a good initial way, however, to identify patients at risk for visual loss from diabetes.

Patients are scheduled for the imaging via the computerized patient record system (CPRS). The images taken of the retina at the clinics are sent to an image reading center, where an eye care specialist determines the need for further care.

Diabetic retinopathy causes 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year in the United States, making diabetes the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age.

The tele-retinal imaging program is just one year old this month and expected to expand significantly in the coming year. VA collaborated with the Department of Defense and the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston to implement the technology involving digital retinal imaging and remote image interpretations to assess for levels of diabetic retinopathy. This is another example of how VA has achieved efficiency and quality of care for its patients with diabetes that exceeds that in the private sector.

Diabetes is one target of a major VA program designed to reduce the high rates of illness caused by obesity. Called MOVE -- for "Managing Overweight Veterans Everywhere" -- it encourages veterans to increase their physical activity and improve their nutrition. Further information is available at