Two studies from The University of Western Australia have found that optometrists and general practitioners - who play an important role in primary eye care - can improve their management of diabetic patients at risk of eye damage.
Lead-author Dr Daniel Ting, from UWA's School of Population Health, said diabetic retinopathy was damage to the retina caused by diabetes mellitus and early detection and prompt treatment could prevent 98 per cent of visual impairment.
Of the 568 optometrists around Australia who responded to the survey, more than half reported they lacked confidence in detecting macular oedema (swelling in the retina due to diabetes) and only 40 per cent would appropriately refer patients with macular oedema to an eye specialist.
"Given macular oedema is a major cause of significant visual impairment, optometrists need to improve their management (confidence to detect and referrals) to ensure prompt laser treatment for patients," the report states.
The study of GPs found nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) did not routinely examine their diabetic patients for diabetic retinopathy. But of those, 89 per cent would refer their diabetic patients to see an ophthalmologist within two years of initial diabetes diagnosis.
Although only 21 per cent of GPs were confident in detecting diabetic retinopathy clinical signs, most felt confident and proficient in managing it once changes were detected.
"A worrying finding was that only 29 per cent of GPs and 65 per cent of optometrists had read the NHMRC guidelines on diabetic retinopathy. This highlights the importance of fostering a culture of continuing education and training."
"Diabetic retinopathy screening and management by Australian GPs", published in Australian Family Physician and "Diabetic retinopathy management by Australian optometrists", published in Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology.