Screen for life – know your score

We hear why diabetic retinopathy screening, Screen for life, is so important for diabetes patients.


Modern technological advances have made it possible to detect the earliest signs of diabetic disease by taking a photograph of the retina at the back of the eye. A new appreciation of the importance of the detection of any retinopathy has changed the way doctors are managing the disease.

The detection of retinopathy, done by human and artificial intelligence graders, informs the risk of future disease, including blindness. This makes it imperative for people living with diabetes to know their retinopathy score while there is still time to change it by looking after themselves better.

#Redflag communication system

The Ophthalmology Society of South Africa (OSSA) has developed the Screen for life programme to help communicate these important messages, using three red warning flags. The #Redflag communication system is communicated using the patient held record:

  • Screen for life, #Flag 1: Detection of any retinopathy determines the person to be retinopathy positive. This increases the risk of future complications, especially heart attack. The primary care giver needs to be informed of this.
  • Screen for sight, #Flag 2: Detection of sight-threatening retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. Referral to an ophthalmologist is indicated for this.
  • Screen for progression, #Flag 3: Progression of retinopathy disease means that the steps to control the disease are not working and more help is needed to prevent severe disease. This will require more urgent intervention by the primary care giver and may require referral to a diabetologist.

All people living with diabetes should be screened to determine whether retinopathy is present. If no retinopathy is detected, the person is advised to be screened in one year’s time. Diabetic patients are encouraged to keep looking after themselves well to stay retinopathy negative. When retinopathy is present, review is advised based on the severity of disease detected. This may be yearly, six-monthly or three-monthly. Once retinopathy is more severe, referral to an ophthalmologist is indicated.

MEET OUR EXPERT


Stephen Cook is an ophthalmologist and works at the Eye Centre which strives to provide a comprehensive eye service to people in the region. He is also a part-time consultant at the Frere Hospital and supports the registrar training programme for Walter Sisulu University. His special interests lie in making medical services more accessible and communication regarding conditions more understandable. He has developed the Screen for life diabetic retinopathy screening programme on behalf of the ophthalmology society (OSSA).