CSIRO Is Using GPs To Fight Blindness In Diabetics

CSIRO Is Using GPs To Fight Blindness In Diabetics
Image: CSIRO

A new CSIRO telehealth trial using high-resolution cloud-connected cameras will let GPs test the eyes of diabetes patients for early signs of blindness without a costly and time-consuming referral to a specialist. CSIRO’s new tool should allow for doctors to send images of patients’ retinas to specialists to view and grade over the internet.

200 patients in the first six months will be targeted by the trial, which will focus on diabetic retinopathy — a potential side effect of untreated diabetes where the small blood vessels within the retina degrade, causing progessive vision loss and eventually blindness.

Announced this morning as part of World Diabetes Day, the trial of the CSIRO Remote-I cameras and complementary internet-connected setup at the Midland Railway Workshops GP Superclinic at Midland in Western Australia will simplify the process for patients to get tested. It’s the first time around the world that GPs have been able to test for diabetic retinopathy without sending their patients to an outside specialist.

The system will require GPs to directly test people with diabetes using CSIRO’s Remote-I platform — a relatively cheap retinal camera is used to capture images of patients’ retinas, and those files are uploaded to a server where specialist eye doctors can view and grade them. CSIRO’s Dr.Grader software will also be used to scan images and automatically grade them to speed up the process.

Within around five minutes, CSIRO’s people- and computer-powered diabetic retinopathy test can produce a report for the GP to interpret and deliver to the patient. Remote-I has previously been used in rural and regional communities, with the images uploaded over satellite broadband, but the permanent installation at Midland will allow GPs to process many more patients and scale up the service.

A GP-led test for condition like diabetic retinopathy also breaks down the walls for traditionally disadvantaged socioeconomic groups to access specialist services, including Australia’s indigenous population — which suffers from diabetic retinopathy at a scale of nearly four times the rest of the Australian population. It also eases the load on Australia’s hospital system.

The condition can be avoided in people with diabetes, but requires regular eye checks — normally done at an opthalmologist requiring a referral and sometimes significant upfront payment. This new CSIRO tech, if it delivers results in this metro area trial, should make that a lot easier. [CSIRO]