Dr. Omolola (Lola) Ogunyemi is principal investigator for a TeleRetinal Screening project being implemented in South Los Angeles. The RCMI Infrastructure for Clinical and Translational Research (RCTR) funded project is a collaboration between Charles R. Drew University and six Safety Net community clinics in the inner
city. As many know, diabetes is a huge problem in this country and particularly within urban communities. Diabetic Retinopathy, a completion of diabetes that can cause blindness, has a screening rate of only 25% percent in the inner city compared to the national average of sixty percent. The purpose of the Teleretinal screening study is to improve the screening rate in these communities and to better understand why there are such disparities in screening and treatment.

“Diabetic Retinopathy is completely treatable when caught in time,” said Dr. Ogunyemi. “If it’s not identified early on that’s when it results in blindness.”

During the course of the study, more than 2,732 patients were screened for retinopathy. Outside of the Veteran Affairs Medical System, this is the largest screening study in
the U.S.

Medical assistants at the clinics were trained to use the specialized cameras to capture images of the eyes and three board certified opthamologists were responsible for analyzing the images.

[testimonial category=”testimonial-cat-2″ type=”slider”]“Our method enabled certified opthamologists to review the pictures without having to be in the same room, even city as the patient,”[/testimonial] – Dr. Ogunyemi.

The recruitment process was aided by the collaboration with the clinics. The community clinics or safety -net clinics which serve patients who are uninsured or under-insured, provided classes on diabetes and the various types of screenings. Focus groups were conducted to help the researchers understand how much the patients understood about their illness and the potential complications.

“We were able to provide feedback to the clinics about the impact of their educational material and how the information could be improved. So it was a win-win for the researchers and the clinics,” continued Dr. Oguyemi.

As a result, more than a 1,000 patients were referred for laser surgery to prevent blindness. “The project was a success and a model for collaborations with community clinics in the future,” Dr. Ogunyemi concluded.

The next steps, Dr. Oguyemi’s team will include looking for partners, basic scientists who are looking at biomarkers related diabetic retinopathy. After exploring available literature, the
team found that biomarkers related to diabetic retinopathy appear in Latino populations that do not appear in other populations and will seek to predict who is at risk for retinopathy just by looking at their medical records. This will further improve community outreach; community health workers can encourage the patients to come in for screening because there still needs to be an increase in the screening rate.