Yao Liu, MD, Presents Telemedicine Project at Congressional Reception

UW School of Medicine and Public Health Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Glaucoma specialist Yao Liu, MD, recently returned from Washington, DC where she was an invited presenter at the Emerging Vision Scientists Congressional Reception at the Capitol building on September 14-15, 2016. Liu talked about her tele-ophthalmology initiative and the importance of funding vision research.

Tele-ophthalmology uses specialized eye photos to detect eye disease in primary care clinics among patients with diabetes. These photos are then sent electronically and reviewed by eye specialists. The results are communicated to the patient’s primary care provider who refers patients with abnormal findings to local eye care providers. This type of diabetic eye screening provides rapid, high-quality eye care at low cost. It is currently available in the UW Specialty Clinic at Mile Bluff Medical Center in Mauston, WI where primary care patients can obtain eye screening on a walk-in basis.

Liu was one of 22 young vision scientists invited from across the country. Her project seeks to identify and address barriers to using tele-ophthalmology in rural health systems. This work is funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute and the Wisconsin Partnership Program. Her overall goal is to develop and test an adaptable implementation program to expand this technology statewide and nationally. By developing a successful implementation program, Liu’s research will help increase access to eye care in underserved rural populations, address healthcare disparities and prevent vision loss from diabetic eye disease.

According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of blindness among working-age Americans. “In our country, nearly $2 billion in medical costs will be spent on treating people with avoidable blindness from diabetes–blindness that would have been prevented through earlier eye screening and treatment.” Liu said. “Unfortunately, only a half-percent of the annual medical cost of treating vision disorders in the U.S. is spent on vision research. Strong, sustained funding support for vision researchers is critical for helping us to develop better and more cost-effective treatments to prevent blindness in our communities.”

Liu was delighted to find strong support for vision research among Wisconsin’s legislators. “Kathleen Laird in Senator Tammy Baldwin’s office let us know that Senator Baldwin is a tireless supporter of research and, together with Congressman Mark Pocan, will soon be introducing legislation to provide further support for young researchers from the National Institutes of Health,” Liu said. “My colleagues from the Medical College of Wisconsin and I talked about our work, the challenges faced by young researchers and the need for strong funding support for vision research. Jenna Mathis in Senator Ron Johnson’s office told us we were the most effective and engaging group of researchers in communicating our message that she’d ever met!”

This event was sponsored by a grant from Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB), a foundation that is seeking to preserve and restore vision by supporting research to develop treatments, preventives and cures for all conditions that damage and destroy sight.