A trial virtual emergency consultation program for eye patients has led to quicker treatment times and removed the need for follow up hospital appointments in more than half of cases, according to researchers.

The teleophthalmology system, developed by the University of Strathclyde and by NHS (National Health Service) Forth Valley, uses a live video feed to securely connect doctors, opticians, and patients.

Using a mixture of 3-D printed technology developed at Strathclyde, combined with the Scottish Government funded Attend Anywhere Video Consultation Platform, eye doctors can remotely examine patients in emergency departments.

The trial, which started in April 2018 is now standard procedure in the emergency departments at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, and in the Minor Injuries Unit at the Stirling Health and Care Village.

Fort Valley Royal Hospital
The Fort Valley Royal Hospital in Larbet

All seven on-call consultants within NHS Forth Valley use the technology. One of Scotland’s busiest A & E (Accident & Emergency) departments, Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, has received more than 80 consecutive video referrals for urgent eye problems, and they have reduced the need for a second appointment in an estimated 50 percent of cases.

Tele-ophthalmology is a branch of telemedicine that delivers eye care through digital medical equipment and allows clinicians to provide quality health care outside of clinics.

Dr. Mario Giardini from the University of Strathclyde’s Department, who helped develop the system said: “It means anyone who goes into the emergency optometrist or the emergency department with a serious eye problem can be seen by a specialist straight away through telecommunications and be diagnosed there and then.

“It allows a new way of working that combines our Strathclyde technology for eye imaging, developments in mobile camera technology, high data transmission speeds, and emerging telemedicine software.
“The system allows emergency eye patients to be seen much quicker, enhancing decision-making and therefore, patient outcomes.

The technology uses a slit lamp microscope, which emits an intense beam of light to examine the eye, along with a tablet computer transmitting a live video feed. This enables a consultant to view the magnified eye remotely. It also uses adapters based on Strathclyde technology to see the back of the eye.

An audio feed enables the consultant to speak with the treating doctor or nurse and with the patient.

SUBHEAD: Reduces the need for hospital appointments.

The feedback shows that in an estimated 50 percent of cases, the need for a hospital appointment has been saved.

Says Dr. Livingstone, “When a colleague needs a steer on what to do, we can have a live view through their equipment, and connect them with a more nuanced plan, often preventing a trek to the eye clinic, and hours of waiting in a second waiting room.

The team has also performed a preliminary test with optometrists, who can make video calls to the ophthalmologist.

Many patients prefer virtual exams

Alloa-based optometrist Linda Hunter has been taking part in the trial and says the virtual consultations have benefits for the patient.

She said: “Patients can get quite anxious but if they can get a face to face consultation with an ophthalmologist and get things explained to them it can help put their mind at rest.

Prescriptions can also be wired directly to the GP, which again save the patients having to visit a specialist clinic.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, said,
“Our Digital Health and Care Strategy aim to allow greater and more convenient access to routine care and specialist support.

“This project demonstrates our commitment to new approaches and new technology that improve patient experiences, promote better healthcare outcomes, and support clinicians in their work.

“Across the country, we are seeing an expansion of Attend Anywhere across a range of disciplines success.”