Diabetes Eye Screening Program- DESP
June 13, 2019
Diabetes Eye Screening Program (Teleophthalmology)
Hosted by South Riverdale Community Health Centre
The Diabetes Eye Screening Program (DESP) started its journey 5 years ago based on the idea of helping people with diabetes who struggle to have their eyes screened. Many are unaware of the progressive and silent disease which could potentially destroy their vision and even result in blindness. This program can reduce wait times and unaffordable expenses to allow people to easily have advanced retinal pictures.
Although telemedicine is fairly new, the program is slowly being accepted as one of the solutions for preventing blindness and ensuring regular eye screening for people living with diabetes. 513 clients of 1210 screened over the first 5 years of the program have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy or another eye disease. Clients have then gone on to be monitored or treated as necessary for their particular situation. The DESP team has witnessed the growth and success of the program; not only through the research, but also by diagnosing serious undetected retinal issues among clients facing barriers to accessing care, preventing blindness, and improving eyesight in some of our very marginalized fellow Torontonians.
Any person living with diabetes can be screened, as long as they have not had a retinal eye exam in the past 12 months, do not already have an eye care provider, and provide a referral from their physician or nurse practitioner. The DESP team arranges the appointment and the screening process is based on three steps. After getting a general history, a visual acuity test is followed by checking intra-ocular pressure (IOP) which needs a numbing drop. Then, a dilating drop helps us to dilate the pupils to obtain good quality retina and OCT pictures of the eyes. These pictures are sent via secure Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) to Toronto Western Hospital to be diagnosed by Dr. Michael Brent and his fellow. When ready, results are sent by DESP to the primary care provider to review with their client. DESP staff also assists in connecting clients with Optometrists and Ophthalmologists in their community.
For the sake of the client’s convenience, the DESP mobile unit travels among more than12 locations, from Victoria Park in Scarborough to Dixie Road in Mississauga, from South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Toronto to Unison in North York. The DESP team is keen to be as close as possible to the clients and meet its goal to educate, screen and connect, as much as possible and where there is need. The team hopes a timely eye screening could overthrow diabetes as the leading cause of blindness in Canada.