The Staffordshire Diabetic Retinopathy Service is hosted and run by South Staffordshire Primary Care Trust on behalf of the three primary care trusts in the county - South Staffordshire, North Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent. Community screening clinics are held in 60 optometrist practices across Staffordshire which are using OptoMize iP, an innovative digital imaging software and electronic patient records system developed by Digital Healthcare, a Cambridge company that is the United Kingdom's leading supplier of specialist diabetic retinopathy screening software.
The Service is responsible for the care of around 41.000 diabetes patients who are invited to attend a screening clinic at an optometrist practice near to their homes. An optometrist takes a digital photograph of the back of their eyes and uses Digital Healthcare's software to grade or review the digital images to establish whether they are normal or whether the patient is suffering from diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness if left untreated. Urgent cases are referred for hospital treatment while patients that require non-urgent follow-up are given a choice of attending an ophthalmology clinic in six hospitals.
Malcolm Gray, an optometrist and Clinical Director of the Screening Service, stated: "We are delighted with the success of the Staffordshire screening programme and I would like to acknowledge the dedicated support and commitment of all the optometrists involved in enabling us to screen so many diabetes patients. Diabetes is the commonest cause of blindness in the working population and digital imaging is recognised as the most effective way to detect diabetic retinopathy early on when it can be treated. The new system provided by Digital Healthcare is allowing us to reach out to the diabetic community by facilitating easy access to screening appointments in a range of locations. We can also use the software to compare images over time to track any changes in eye condition."
The Staffordshire Screening Service has taken the decision to offer patients a choice of six hospitals for follow-up treatment although the screening programme is exempt from national guidelines that require patients to have a choice of up to four hospitals for treatment.
Mr. Gray commented: "We decided to implement specialist software so that we could offer this additional element of patient choice and we are finding that it really boosts patient engagement in the screening and treatment process. Patients appreciate having the opportunity to select the hospital for their treatment and when they contact us we are also able to explain the next steps in their treatment."
Jim Lythgow, Sales & Marketing Director at Digital Healthcare, stated: "The Staffordshire Diabetic Retinopathy Service can be regarded as a model screening programme. It was launched on time, is running to budget and we understand that it is now one of the largest digital screening services in the country. We congratulate Malcolm Gray and his team, and the optometrists involved, on their substantial achievements over the past 16 months and look forward to continuing to work with them."
Malcolm Gray commented on future plans for the Service: "We are pleased with what has been achieved to date and, having undertaken an audit of the programme, we are now looking at ways to expand delivery so that even more diabetes patients can be offered access to digital screening appointments that could save their sight."
"The ability to share information via telemedicine is also a key benefit of this innovative software system. A number of our optometrists use a secure broadband connection to submit images for secondary review by optometrists that have received specialist clinical training. We hope to extend our broadband connection so that all of the optometrists involved in the Screening Service can submit images in this way."
Diabetes currently affects 1,8 million people in the United Kingdom and that figure is expected to increase to over 3 million people by 2010. The Staffordshire Diabetic Retinopathy Service is part of a national screening programme set up by the Department of Health which requires 100 percent of the diabetic population to have had access to a digital scan of their eyes by the end of 2007.
Digital Healthcare was established in 2000, and is a producer of advanced digital imaging software and electronic patient care management systems for the health care market. Digital Healthcare is a supplier of Ophthalmic and Diabetic Retinopathy Screening solutions to the National Health Service (NHS) with over 100 installations in hospitals and optician practices that are used to screen over 500.000 patients every year for diseases such as glaucoma, retinopathy, cataracts and advanced macular degeneration.
The software also contains a secure electronic patient records system covering all the patients on a screening programme so that screening staff and ophthalmologists can instantly retrieve patient histories and images. The fully-automated system allows staff to generate referrals to clinics straight after screening, as well as reports on the screening results for GPs and patients.
Digital Healthcare provides screening solutions to over 600 private practices, hospitals and universities in the United States, with satellite usage in European countries, Australasia and the Far East. Worldwide, the company's software solutions will be screening 1 million patients by 2008. Digital Healthcare is one of only three companies whose software systems have been approved by the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (PASA) for use in the national screening programme.
Research shows that if retinopathy is identified early through retinal screening, and treated appropriately, blindness can be prevented in 90 percent of those at risk. It has been calculated that the lifetime costs of dealing with retinopathy can be up to GBP 237.000 per person (source: Diabetes UK Report, "The Cost of Blindness").
Digital Healthcare's OptoMize iP software has also been designed to comply with the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) standards for the secure electronic transmission of data (telemessaging). More company news is available in the VMW February 2006 article Digital Healthcare scores world first with secure telemessaging for eye screening.