CONTEXT: Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is the leading cause of incident blindness among working-age adults in the United States. Federally designated safety-net clinics (FDSC) often serve as point-of-contact for patients least likely to receive recommended DR screenings, creating opportunity for targeted interventions to increase screening access and compliance.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: With such a goal, we implemented and assessed the longitudinal performance of an FDSC-based telemedicine DR screening (TDRS) network of 22 clinical sites providing nonmydriatic fundus photography with remote interpretation and reporting. Retrospective analysis of patient encounters between February 2014 and January 2019 was performed to assess rates of pathology and referral. A generalized estimating equation logistic regression model was used for subset analysis from audits of pre- and post-implementation screening rates. Finally, patient surveys were conducted and assessed as a measure of intervention acceptability.

RESULTS: Of the 13,923 individual telescreening encounters (4327 female, 4220 male, and 5376 unspecified; mean [SD] age, 54.9 [12.5] years) studied, 10,540 were of adequate quality to identify 3532 (33.5%) patients with ocular pathology: 2319 (22.0%) patients had some level of DR with 1604 (15.2%) requiring specialist referral, and 808 (7.7%) patients required referral for other ocular pathologies. The mean screening rate for audited clinics in the year prior to program implementation was 29.9% (641/2147), which increased to 47.7% (1012/2124) in the program’s first year, doubling patients’ odds of being screened (OR 2.2; 95% CI: 1.3–3.7; P = .003). These gains were sustained over four years following implementation (OR 1.9; 95% CI: 1.1–3.1; P = .018) despite varied clinic screening performance (4-year averaged range, 22.9–55.1%). Odds of early detection likewise doubled for patients with consecutive screenings (OR 2.2, 95% CI: 2.0–2.4; P < .001). Finally, surveyed patients preferred TDRS to specialist exams (82.5%; 776/941) and would recommend the service to friends (92.7%; 868/936).

CONCLUSION AND RELEVANCE: A statewide, FDSC-centered TDRS network was successfully established and sustained in a medically underserved region of the United States. Our results suggest that large TDRS networks in FDSCs can increase screening access and compliance for otherwise unscreened populations, but outcomes can vary greatly among clinics. Further work to optimize program implementation is needed to maximize this model's impact.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in PLOS ONE, v. 15, no. 11, e0241767.

© 2020 Bastos de Carvalho et al.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Funding Information

The Health Resources and Services Administration (https://www.hrsa.gov/) supported RRS, EBH with grant number H2ARH260330304. The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (https://ncats.nih.gov/) supported ABC, FL, HMB with grant number UL1TR001998.

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