A trial virtual emergency consultation program for eye patients has led to faster treatment and reduced follow up hospital appointments.

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.

The teleophthalmology trial started in April 2018, and it’s now standard procedure in two emergency departments: the Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, and the the Stirling Health and Care Village.

Fort Valley Royal Hospital
The Fort Valley Royal Hospital in Larbet

All seven on-call NHS Forth Valley consultants use the technology. In fact, Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, one of Scotland’s busiest Accident & Emergency departments, has made more than 80 video referrals. In half the cases, they’ve eliminated the need for a second appointment in an estimated 50 percent of cases.

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.

A flexible telemedicine system

The technology uses a slit lamp and a tablet computer to transmit a live video feed to the consultant who views the eye remotely. Adapters allow for retinal examinations. And, an audio feed enables the consultant to speak with the treating doctor or nurse and with the patient.

Teleophthalmology 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 eliminated.

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 says the virtual consultations have benefits for the patient.

“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 saves the patients having to visit a specialist clinic,” she says.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, said,

“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.”