The new tele-ophthalmology unit expects to conduct up to 2,000 free screenings each year at locations in the Bronx, Washington Heights and Harlem.

NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center is using video and telehealth to help diagnose and treat diseases that can lead to blindness.

NewYork-Presbyterian, No. 243 in the Internet Health Management 2017 Digital Hospital 500 rankings, has launched a new mobile healthcare unit with telehealth capability to help spot and treat more quickly eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular generation and diabetic retinopathy, a diabetes complication that affects eyes that’s caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.

This project leverages technology and mobility to help these patients get the care they need, when they need it.

“You can treat these eye conditions and prevent blindness if they’re caught early,” says Dr. Lama Al-Aswad, an ophthalmologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia and director of the Tele-Ophthalmology initiative. “But unfortunately, many people in underserved communities don’t have access to proper eye care, and by the time these diseases progress, it’s often too late. This project leverages technology and mobility to help these patients get the care they need, when they need it.”

The new tele-ophthalmology unit expects to conduct up to 2,000 free screenings each year at locations in the Bronx, Washington Heights and Harlem, all sections of New York City. Providers will be equipped with diagnostic equipment in mobile testing stations, which includes secure wireless data transmission links that allow clinicians in NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia’s reading center to evaluate data in real-time. Screening participants are then given instructions or referrals to clinics that can handle follow-up care.

“Our model pursues health care management by targeting high-risk populations and screening them for diseases free of cost,” Al-Aswad says. “If we are able to identify these problems in patients before they progress, we’ll reduce the cost of care and improve their health drastically.”

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So far, the mobile unit has screened about 160 individuals, with plans to visit Washington Heights, Harlem, Flushing, Fort Greene, Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn later this year, says NewYork-Presbyterian

The new mobile and telehealth testing program is needed because ophthalmological diseases and blindness are a growing public health problem, the hospital says. “In our old model for community screening, we found that 57% of individuals never saw an eye doctor in their lifetime regardless of having insurance,” Al-Aswad says. “They may develop a preventable blinding disease such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration without even realizing it.”

NewYork Presbyterian already has a substantial telehealth program in place. NYP OnDemand is a telehealth initiative that enables patients, doctors and other healthcare providers to perform a broad range of web-based healthcare transactions such as scheduling a second opinion within the NewYork-Presbyterian system, inter-hospital consults between patients and doctors within different departments and scheduling follow-up appointments and emergency room consultations.

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