As I’ve been doing my Fall Healthcare IT Conference tour, I’ve had the chance to meet with hundreds of companies and thousands of people working to improve healthcare. While all this travel takes its toll, I also come away from all of these meetings invigorated by the quality of people and their desire to make healthcare better. That’s true almost across the board.
While most of the solutions I see are an evolution of something I’ve seen before, every once in a while I meet with a company that’s really impacting healthcare in a unique and interesting way. I found just such a case when I met with Patrick Cresson from IRIS – Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems.
On face value, many might look at IRIS as just another diabetic retinopathy exam that’s been done by ophthalmologists forever. While this is true, what makes IRIS unique is that they have an FDA cleared exam that can be done in the primary care setting as opposed to being referred to an ophthalmologist. As Patrick pointed out to me, of all the diabetic screenings that need to be done for diabetic patients can be done in the primary care setting except for the retinal exam. At least that was the case before IRIS brought those exams to the primary care setting.
A look at the numbers is quite telling. There are 116 million patients with diabetes or pre-diabetes and that number is increasing every day. It’s estimated that 30 million diabetes patients get referred for an eye exam every year and 19 million diabetes patients do not get the annual retinal exam. There are plenty of reasons why this is the case, but it’s not hard to see why this happens. The same thing happens with referrals across healthcare. Diabetic patients that can’t tell any difference in their eyesight are unlikely to keep going back for an annual retinal exam. Who really wants to go to the pain of scheduling an appointment for what doesn’t seem to be an issue? So, they don’t.
The problem with this thinking is that diabetic retinopathy is asymptomatic. The only way to know if you’re heading for trouble is to have a retinal exam. The good news is that early detection can solve the problem and literally save diabetic patients’ eyesight. I know this first hand since it saved my grandfather’s eyesight.
This is the compelling story that IRIS tells as it pushes the retinal exam into the primary care setting where they can ensure patients are getting the early screenings they’ve so often missed in the past. This plays out in the numbers. Over the past 3 years, IRIS has performed 120,000 diabetic retinopathy exams which resulted in 56,000 patients identified with a pathology and 11,600 patients saved from potential blindness.
While this type of early detection can help healthcare organizations HEDIS compliance, I’m intrigued by the way IRIS straddles the fee for service and value based care worlds. I’ve seen very few models that get a primary care provider paid in the fee for service world, but also work to significantly lower the costs of healthcare in a value based care world. However, that’s exactly what you get from IRIS’s early screening exams.
What’s also fascinating to consider about IRIS is ophthalmologists’ response. It’s easy to see how many ophthalmologists could be afraid of diabetic retinal exams being done in the primary care setting and not in the ophthalmologists’ offices. That’s taking business away from them. While this is true, it’s also easy to see how an increase in retinal exams will drive more previously undiagnosed higher acuity exams, surgeries and interventions to ophthalmologists. Every ophthalmologist I know would much rather do a higher acuity surgery than a basic diabetic retinopathy exam. That’s the reality that IRIS creates since it’s an FDA cleared exam for diabetic retinopathy, but it’s only a screening tool for other eye diseases that require a full exam by an ophthalmologist.
Stories like IRIS are why I love blogging about healthcare IT. IRIS is changing healthcare as we know it by reducing healthcare costs, improving the patient experience, and getting doctors paid. That’s the real triple aim of healthcare in action.