four masked healthcare providers standing next to a vision screening device

(from left) Brian Nolan, MD, Billijoe Prech-Child, MA, Brianna Walker, MA, and Sadie Kenney, MA, of Western Maine Health with the retinal camera used in the innovative diabetic retinopathy screening service

A shortage of local eye care specialists in the Norway, Maine, area has led to an increase in the threat of diabetic retinopathy, a preventable cause of blindness in diabetic patients. Many — about 40% — of the approximately 1,300 patients with diabetes who live in the area do not receive recommended retinopathy screenings.

close-up view of eye as seen through retinal camera

A close-up view of eye as seen through retinal camera

Brian Nolan, MD, an Internal Medicine Physician at Western Maine Primary Care in Norway, with more than 20 years’ experience caring for patients, saw an opportunity to conduct retinopathy screenings during routine primary care appointments. Brian and Maine Medical Center Internal Medicine Resident Shane Kirkegaard, DO, who was working in the Rural Internal Medicine Residency program at Western Maine Health, partnered with Kerri Barton, MPH, a former MaineHealth Institute for Research, to introduce an innovative novel solution — the EyeArt AI Screening System. EyeArt uses a retinal camera that connects with a cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to analyze retinal images within seconds after image acquisition. Brian and the team can now screen patients during primary care visits, making the process quicker and more efficient for patients who otherwise have difficulty getting to a specialist’s office. The image analysis offered by this tool will also be covered by insurance.

In fall of 2020, the team applied to the first offering of the MaineHealth Innovation Ignite Fund and received $20,000 to purchase the retinal camera and cover the cost of the first 100 AI image interpretations.

The investment from MaineHealth Innovation has enabled us to apply emerging technology in a new setting, bring advanced screening techniques to address problems of access to care, and to potentially preserve eyesight for patients most at risk for sight loss.”

— Brian Nolan, MD, Internal Medicine Physician, Western Maine Health

Since the retinal camera has been implemented at the Western Maine Primary Care office, the care team reports that they are conducting up to 10 screenings each week. Patients receive the screening at the end of their standing primary care appointments or during routine retinopathy screening clinics. The care team has detected vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy in several patients who were sent for immediate follow up with a specialist, potentially saving their vision before more serious effects of diabetic retinopathy occurred.

NEXT STEPS

MaineHealth will continue using this new technology to increase annual screening rates among diabetic patients and decrease the time to diagnose and treat diabetic retinopathy.

TEAM

Kerri Barton, MPH
Former Research Navigator
MaineHealth Institute for Research

Sadie Kenney, MA
Medical Assistant
Western Maine Health

Shane Kirkegaard, DO
Former Internal Medicine Resident
Maine Medical Center

Brian Nolan, MD
Internal Medicine Physician
Western Maine Health

Billiejoe Prech-Child, MA
Medical Assistant
Western Maine Health

Brianna Walker, MA
Medical Assistant
Western Maine Health