Living with diabetes? Get your eyes checked

A new University of Sydney study has found only half of people living with diabetes get the recommended diabetes eye checks, putting them at risk of significant vision loss and blindness.

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Australians. All people with diabetes are at risk of diabetes related retinopathy which causes damage to the back of the eye. Most people with diabetes need a diabetes eye check every two years, and some more frequently.

The study, published in Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology, linked data from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up study with Medicare Benefits data to examine how frequently almost 25,000 people in New South Wales living with diabetes had eye examinations.

Researchers found people who had been living with diabetes for 10 or more years were even less likely to get regular eye checks, with almost 80 percent of people not partaking in the annual check recommended for this group.

Professor Mark Gillies with a patient.

Professor Mark Gillies with a patient.

Co-author and ophthalmologist Professor Mark Gillies from the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine and Health and Save Sight Institute said the findings reinforced the need for more education.

“Ninety-eight percent of serious vision loss from diabetes can be prevented with regular eye examinations and early treatment,” said Professor Gillies.

“I encourage people to use services like KeepSight to keep on top of their appointments. It’s also important they understand the kind of eye check required, as only eye checks that include dilation of the pupil with eye drops (fundus dilation) is appropriate to detect changes in the eye-related to diabetes.”

Diabetes Australia’s KeepSight program, which commenced just over 12 months ago, is helping to ensure that the proportion of people with diabetes accessing eye checks increases in coming years and ultimately, every person with diabetes get the necessary eye checks and this helps prevent vision loss and blindness.

KeepSight is an online eye check reminder program easily accessed from a mobile phone.

Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson said KeepSight has enrolled 100,000 people since it started last year.

“Having 100,000 Australians with diabetes registered with KeepSight is an important milestone for the program – but there are currently over 1.36 million Australians living with diabetes so we are encouraging every person with diabetes, and all health professionals, to register with KeepSight,” said Professor Johnson.

“Keep Sight provides electronic alerts and reminders to help people with diabetes remember their diabetes eye checks. When it’s time for a diabetes eye check you get a reminder. It’s that simple. KeepSight can also help you find an optometrist if you don’t know one.”

The KeepSight program, which is run by Diabetes Australia in partnership with Vision 2020 Australia, Centre for Eye Research Australia and Oculo, has been co-funded by the Australian Government, Specsavers, Bayer, Novartis and Mylan. The program has widespread support from leading diabetes and eye health groups including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, Orthoptics Australia, Optometry Australia, the Australian Diabetes Society and the Australian Diabetes Educators Association.

The University of Sydney-led research is part of a series of population-based record linkage projects using the NSW 45 and Up study to evaluate the uptake and long-term health impact of government-funded services and programs implemented to support care and reduce complications in people with diabetes.

Dr Alice Gibson profile picture

Dr Alice Gibson

Dr Alice Gibson from the Charles Perkins Centre and Menzies Centre for Health Policy, who leads this wider body of work said: “The findings from this study and the wider program of research will be used to develop evidence-based policy options to inform the implementation of the National Diabetes Strategy which aims to prioritise Australia’s response to diabetes and identify approaches to reducing the impact of diabetes in the community.”


Declaration: The study, ‘Adherence to eye examination guidelines among individuals with diabetes: An analysis of linked health data’ was supported by an Australian Diabetes Servier Research Grant and a Diabetes Australia Research Trust Grant. Professor Gillies has received research funding from, and is on advisory boards, for Bayer and Novartis.

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