The Mohawk Valley Health System’s (MVHS) Central New York (CNY) Diabetes Education Program, with the assistance of an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Member and Community Health Improvement (MACHI) grant, has purchased a RetinaVue visual screening device. The device is a digital camera which has been specifically designed to take high resolution images of the patient’s retina to detect retinal changes which may, when untreated, progress to vision loss – a significant risk for people living with diabetes.

“Diabetic Retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in working age adults in the US,” said Caroline Jacobus, MS, RN, CDE, CFCN, MVHS certified diabetes educator. “This specialized device allows us to determine if a patient has blood vessel issues with their eyes and needs to be referred to a specialist.”

According to the National Eye Institute, nearly 8 million Americans are living with Diabetic Retinopathy, a number which is expected to double by 2030. The condition is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina), and symptoms can include everything from mild vision changes to complete blindness if left unchecked. The longer someone has diabetes, especially if blood sugar is uncontrolled, the more likely they are to develop retinopathy.

According to MVHS Family Medicine Physician Mark Warfel, DO, early detection of diabetic retinopathy is key to preventing permanent vision loss. “Diabetic patients should have a retinal screening examination yearly,” he said. “While this type of examination can be done by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, for patients with limited access to these eye care professionals, the RetinaVue screening with their family physician provides an alternative to assist with early detection.”

The initial retinal changes from diabetes are not noticeable to patients according to Dr. Warfel. “This is why screening is so important,” he explained. “The painless RetinaVue examination can be completed in about ten minutes and does not require dilation of the pupil. The results are usually available within a day for the provider to review and make recommendations for the patient’s ongoing care.”

The RetinaVue was purchased through a MACHI grant from Excellus BCBS and will be used in partnership between the CNY Diabetes Education Program and the Sister Rose Vincent Family Medicine Center (SRVFMC). Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Member and Community Health Improvement grant program provides funding to local, nonprofit organizations that share the organization’s vision for healthier communities. The initiatives supported span multiple years and include specific objectives and measurable outcomes for improving community health.


“We are proud to partner with MVHS to bring this valuable technology to our community,” said Eve Van de Wal, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Utica regional president. “By leveraging and coordinating our resources, we hope to continue to improve the care provided to those in our community with diabetes and prevent unnecessary complications through early detection and intervention.”


“As the world has been dealing with the COVID-19 virus, many people have been avoiding making appointments with their primary care providers and putting off other necessary appointments,” said Dr. Warfel.  “Fortunately, people have been getting vaccinated, which is allowing many services to be reopened and people to feel comfortable resuming their necessary care.”

The CNY Diabetes Education Program offers a full array of preventative and comprehensive care services to help diabetics manage their condition. For more information about the RetinaVue or to schedule an appointment, please call the SRVFMC at 315-798-1149.

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