Retinal screening is a valuable diagnostic tool that provides doctors with a detailed view of the blood vessels, nerves, and tissue in the back of the eye, which are essential to the visual system. The retina is a highly vascularized tissue that can reveal early signs of damage caused by conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. As a result, retinal examinations can help identify not only eye diseases but also systemic diseases which affect the entire body. For example, in the case of diabetes, damage to the retinal blood vessels can indicate the development of a serious comorbidity termed diabetic retinopathy that can cause vision loss if left untreated.
Early identification of potential health problems through retinal screening can lead to better outcomes for patients and alleviate the burden on the healthcare system. Although retinal screening is traditionally performed by ophthalmologists and optometrists, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) powered technology has enabled primary care physicians to take part in performing diagnostic screening for retinal diseases, making these services more accessible to a broader patient population.
In recent years, the use of AI in retinal screening has widened the use of retinal screening and enabled primary care physicians to integrate it into their practices, where doctors are often patients’ main point of care, and in some cases, their only point of care. AI technology enables primary care providers to perform disease diagnoses on the spot, which might otherwise require costly and time-consuming specialist referrals. As a result, screening services are made more accessible, which in turn contributes to closing important care gaps associated with annual retinal screenings.
As of today, AI-based diagnostic screening is approved by FDA for detecting referable diabetic retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes. Patients with diabetes are recommended to undergo annual screening for the condition. Research shows that traditional screening based on referrals to specialists results in less than 50% adherence rates. Performing the screening in primary care can help close this care gap and provide patients with an accurate and timely diagnosis
Ongoing research is proving that AI can utilize retinal images to detect a broad range of diseases including diabetes, macular degeneration, hypertension, glaucoma, cataracts, and cardiovascular disease. As additional indications receive regulatory approval, early diagnosis of serious, chronic conditions through retinal screenings is likely to become part of routine annual checkups. By detecting conditions at an early stage, healthcare providers can implement timely interventions that prevent the progression of the disease and the development of comorbidities. Early intervention also provides patients with a greater opportunity for better disease management, leading to improved quality of life. Therefore, the integration of AI-enabled retinal screening into routine checkups has the potential to revolutionize the way diseases are diagnosed and chronic conditions are managed.
AI-enabled retinal screening can also reduce healthcare costs. By detecting potential health problems such as diabetes and hypertension at an early stage, doctors can provide more targeted and cost-effective treatments that can prevent costly complications down the line. In addition, the use of AI can reduce the cost of the diagnostic process itself, as it eliminates the need for specialists to perform these tasks, thus saving valuable time and resources.
Overall, retinal screening is a powerful tool for primary care that can detect a range of health problems early and improve patient outcomes. With the advent of AI-enabled diagnostic screening solutions, doctors now have a more accurate and efficient way to diagnose health problems in their patients. As this technology continues to evolve, it has the potential to revolutionize primary care and improve the lives of patients around the world.