DOVS Teleophthalmology: A Vision for Better Eye Care in Rural Wisconsin


In August of 2018, the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (DOVS) launched a Teleophthalmology program in an effort to make diabetic eye examinations highly accessible to rural Wisconsin communities. Residents from these areas often need to travel far for an eye check. Long drives required for an in-person eye screening can pose many barriers to care, including time, money and post-exam inability to drive caused by possible eye dilation, according to David Hoffman, MD, a family and geriatric medicine practitioner at Mile Bluff Medical Center in Mauston, Wisconsin.

The DOVS Teleophthalmology Program makes remote diabetic eye screening possible for these patients. Yao Liu, MD, MS, assistant professor, is the director of the program.

“We are trying to use the Wisconsin idea, making it easier for people to get access to the care they need to protect their vision,” said Dr. Liu.

Trained technicians obtain photos of the eye with a remote camera. The images are then transmitted to DOVS ophthalmologists to screen for diabetic eye disease. Larry Miller, a retired truck driver, is an ophthalmology patient and part of the teleophthalmology program. Miller reflected, “[Teleophthalmology] would be good for everybody. Make sure they get their eyes checked. Because the eyes are so important; it’s one of your senses. It doesn’t hurt to have a check to make sure that things are going okay.”

A landmark clinical study led by Matthew Davis, MD, at DOVS in the 1970s found that early detection and treatment can significantly prevent blindness for diabetes patients. The American Diabetes Association recommends yearly eye check for people with diabetes. Teleophthalmology is also useful for diagnosing other eye diseases including cataracts and glaucoma, in addition to eye screening available and convenient and for Wisconsin residents.

“I’ve often been told by patients that the reason they most want to protect their sight is to watch their children and their grandchildren grow up,” said Liu, “And I think making that possible is just an incredible privilege.”