Ann Blackford

Appalachian Eye Network Extends Diabetic Retinopathy Screenings in Rural Kentucky

Published: Sep 23, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 23, 2013) Kentucky TeleCare, in conjunction with the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, are partnering to bring technologically advanced diabetic eye  screening to diabetics in rural Kentucky with the goal of preventing blindness.


Diabetic Retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness among diabetic adults, can be treated or avoided altogether if the disease is detected early enough. Nearly 30 percent of diabetics over the age of 40 have diabetic retinopathy. Although studies show that 90 percent of diabetics consult their doctor for management of their disease, approximately 50 percent of diabetics in rural Kentucky do not have annual eye exams.


Thanks to a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant from the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT), getting an annual eye exam will be easier than ever for rural Kentuckians with diabetes.


The project, 'Don't lose sight of the importance of eye exams - using telehealth in primary care centers to extend access to Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) screening,' will deploy fully automated, non-mydriatic fundus cameras in 11 primary care clinics in the St. Claire Family Medicine and the White House Clinics which will connect to ophthalmology specialists at UK.


To view a list of the clinics, click here


The camera captures digital images of the central retina without pharmacological pupil dilation. Eye care providers use these images for screening of diabetic retinopathy. The specialist will also use these images to screen for cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other retinal abnormalities that can lead to vision loss and blindness.


Currently, only a fraction of the results of community-based eye exams are imported into the patient's Electronic Medical Record (EMR). Another goal of the project is to place the patient's records into the EMR, creating a true 'medical home' where the primary care physician is fully informed of their patient's health status and needs.


The partnership between the primary care centers, Kentucky TeleCare and UK Ophthalmology, known as the Appalachian Eye Network, will reach five clinics in five counties in eastern Kentucky with a combined population of nearly 77,000 and six clinics in four counties in central Kentucky with a combined population of over 129,000. There are 10 Health Provider Shortage Areas (HPSA), one partial HPSA, and three Medically Underserved Areas (MUA) represented, all of which have rates of diabetes higher than the national average. The expected number of telemedicine-based screening exams is 4,860 over the three-year period of the grant.


Many Kentuckians must travel to access medical specialty services that are not available in their home community.  “Telehealth brings the right care to the right people at the right time in the right place”, as stated in the mission of the Kentucky TeleHealth Network, the legislatively mandated statewide telehealth initiative.


"Our goal is to reach patients with diabetes and those with high risk factors for diabetes who do not get annual eye exams and help uncover potentially devastating eye disease so it can be treated before the patient loses their vision," said Rob Sprang, director of Kentucky TeleCare for UK HealthCare. "I believe we have the opportunity to save people’s vision and change lives."


Media Contact: Ann Blackford at 850-323-6442 or



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