Bascom Palmer and Jefferson Reaves Partner to Prevent Blindness from Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes involving damage to the retina, is a leading cause of blindness among American adults. Despite efforts at the national, state and local levels to expand access to affordable care, lack of health insurance remains a major contributor to the epidemic of blindness from diabetes. A new collaboration between the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and Jackson Health System’s Jefferson Reaves Sr. Health Center promises improved access to primary care for uninsured patients with diabetic retinopathy.

The Diabetic Retinopathy Pipeline Project, directed by third-year ophthalmology resident Scott D. Walter, M.D., allows point-of-care hemoglobin A1c testing and immediate referral to a primary care provider for high-risk patients.

“Patients often present to us with blinding complications of diabetes and an extremely high blood glucose level,” said Walter. “While ophthalmic lasers and injections can help stabilize the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, the efficacy of these local treatments is limited without addressing the metabolic aspect of their disease. This important blood test determines if a patient’s diabetes is being adequately controlled before they meet with their primary care doctor.”

Myriam Lohr, Director of Social Services at Bascom Palmer, says the number of patients without insurance and access to care is significant.

“The results of a recent retrospective study show that more than 10 percent of patients presenting to Bascom Palmer for diabetic eye exams were uninsured,” Lohr said. “Of those with immediate sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy, only a third succeeded in obtaining coverage over one year of follow-up.”

Retina specialist Harry W. Flynn, Jr., M.D., professor of ophthalmology, who serves as a faculty advisor to the Pipeline project, says the Pipeline helps address this gap.

“We are delighted to report that the Pipeline has reduced the average appointment wait time for uninsured patients from 5.6 months to less than two weeks,” Flynn said.

The project is funded through Jackson’s Housestaff Involvement, Education, and Community Outreach Fund, a patient care trust designated for resident-initiated quality improvement projects.

“We are very excited to support and promote our residents’ interest in the quality improvement and preventive work in our community,” said Mihai Puia-Dumitrescu, M.D., M.P.H., Regional Vice President for the Committee of Interns and Residents, the oldest and largest housestaff union in the country. “Dr. Walter and his team hope that the project will serve as a blueprint for statewide or even national efforts to prevent blindness from diabetic retinopathy.”

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