Background: Lions Outback Vision has run a state-wide teleophthalmology service since 2011. In September 2015 the Australian federal government introduced a Medicare reimbursement for optometry-facilitated teleophthalmology consultations under specific circumstances. This audit demonstrates the first 12 months experience with this scheme. We aim to provide practical insights for others looking to embed a telemedicine program as part of delivering outreach clinical services.
Methods: A 12-month retrospective audit was performed between September 2015 and August 2016, inclusive. A research officer used a specifically designed data extraction tool to record information from all teleophthalmology consultations performed in the time period. The primary outcome was the diagnosis at the end of the teleophthalmology consultation. Secondary outcome measures included the number of teleconsultations, cataract surgery rate, remoteness area of patients referred and imaging accompanying the referral.
Results: In the 12-month period, 709 patients were referred resulting in 683 teleophthalmology teleconsultations. Cataract was the most frequent diagnosis (n = 287, 42.7 per cent), followed by glaucoma (n = 77, 11 per cent), age-related macular degeneration (n = 30, 4.4 per cent) and diabetic retinopathy (n = 26, 3.8 per cent). Of those who had teleconsultations, 98.6 per cent were from Outer Regional, Remote or Very Remote Australia. One or more accompanying images or investigations were part of 349 (49 per cent) teleconsultations, most commonly optical coherence tomography (215, 30 per cent) and fundus photography (148, 21 per cent). Face-to-face consultations were undertaken at an outreach clinic in 23 (3.4 per cent) cases, to determine the diagnosis. There were no statistically significant factors associated with attendance at teleophthalmology consultation, or for successfully undergoing cataract surgery.
Conclusion: Teleophthalmology is a valuable adjunct to regional outreach ophthalmology services, providing patients with increased access to specialist care for a wide range of ophthalmic conditions, and more efficient access to surgical care.
Keywords: ophthalmology; optometry; telehealth; telemedicine; teleophthalmology.