Combating Blindness with Telemedicine: CHLA Treats Armenian Children

Worldwide, according to the most recent World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, an estimated 19 million children suffer from visual impairment—and 1.4 million of them will end up blind for life. The vast majority of these children live in developing countries, where a lack of access to specialized eye care often prevents them from having otherwise correctible conditions treated. One such country: Armenia, where the infant blindness rate is triple that of the United States. But, as Healthcare IT News first reported, through the power of telemedicine, eye surgeons located at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) have been able to quickly and efficiently treat and prevent eye disease in Armenian children. The initiative is one of the many undertaken by the Armenia EyeCare Project, founded in 1992.

Dr. Thomas Lee, the director of the CHLA Vision Center who has worked with the Armenia EyeCare Project for a number of years, explained in an interview with Healthcare IT News that telemedicine helps to alleviate a key problem: the lack of trained eye surgeons in Armenia. While, ultimately, one of the group’s goals is to train Armenia-based health care providers to deliver better eye care on the ground, that training process tends to be a lengthy one. What’s more, there’s often a very small window of opportunity in which to treat children at risk for blindness. To that end, CHLA turned to SADA Systems, which “built a telemedicine system using Microsoft technology especially for Lee to reach out from L.A. to Armenia to stop infants from going blind.” As Lee put it, “By having a remote platform available, we were able to provide the supervision needed in a timely fashion for the patient without requiring the expert to disrupt their own practice.” The high quality of the video connection enabled easy communication with Lee’s counterparts in Armenia.

The CHLA Armenian Ambassadors program, which partners with the Armenia Eye Care Project, notes on its Web site that it has “treated over 9,000 Armenian children in the last five years.” Telemedicine is a key part of the work that they do. For his part, Lee is optimistic about the future use of telemedicine in Armenia and elsewhere in the developing world. “In health care today, we are facing a crisis not just in cost but more importantly in access,” he told Healthcare IT News. “Telemedicine will allow us to address both of these issues by allowing subspecialists to partner with other providers in an efficient manner that can both increase access and reduce costs.”

Click here to read the article from Healthcare IT News on CHLA telemedicine work.

Click here to view the CHLA Armenian Ambassadors Web site.

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