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Only half of Australian diabetics getting recommended eye checks

As the KeepSight program hit 100,000 enrolments, a new University of Sydney study has found only half of diabetics are getting the recommended eye checks, putting them at risk of significant vision loss and blindness.

The University of Sydney paper, recently 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 with diabetes had eye examinations.

The researchers found people with diabetes for 10 or more years were even less likely to get regular eye checks, with almost 80% not having the annual recommended check.

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 per cent of serious vision loss from diabetes can be prevented with regular eye examinations and early treatment,” he said.

“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.”

The study findings were revealed in conjunction with Diabetes Australia announcing the KeepSight program had reached 100,000 enrolments.

Greg Johnson.

The program was formally launched to the public in March 2019 and sends reminders to people with diabetes when they are due to have their eyes checked. The initiative, which hopes to replicate outcomes of a similar scheme in the UK, also acts as a national register to identify those having regular exams, as well as the people who aren’t.

Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson said the organisation is confident KeepSight will lead to an increase in people with diabetes accessing eye checks in coming years. Ultimately, he hopes every person with diabetes will attend appointments.

“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,” Johnson said.

“The good news is that almost all diabetes-related blindness is preventable if detected and treated early. Diabetes is a complex condition and people with diabetes need to have many regular health checks to manage their condition. It can be time-consuming and sometimes things get overlooked.”

KeepSight is run by Diabetes Australia in partnership with Vision 2020 Australia, Centre for Eye Research Australia and Oculo. It 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 RANZCO, Orthoptics Australia, Optometry Australia, the Australian Diabetes Society and the Australian Diabetes Educators Association.

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