Opticians may help identify undiagnosed type 2 diabetes cases

Type 2 diabetes is an extremely common metabolic disorder, but estimates have indicated that up to 50 percent of the people with the condition are unaware they have it. New research suggests that opticians my have a role to play in identifying the undiagnosed.

Researchers from Durham University showed that when opticians offer a form of diabetes testing to every patient they see they are able to identify a high number of people who were previously undiagnosed as having possible symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

For the study, researchers found that for every 1,000 patients opticians tested, 32 percent had suspicious results and were referred to their primary care physicians for further testing.

The point of having opticians offer testing for type 2 diabetes is to bring screening to where the people are. Millions of people visit opticians every year, yet fewer people visit primary care doctors on a regular basis. Even when they do, their physician may not think to test a person for type 2 diabetes. Making screening a regular part of eye care could solve this problem.

Furthermore, the researchers said opticians should play a larger role in preventing diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness, and eye doctors regularly deal with the consequences of the condition.

The notion of having other medical professionals screen individuals for type 2 diabetes is nothing new. The researchers pointed out that similar studies have been conducted in which dentists, and chiropractors and other medical specialists tested patients. The new findings confirm that recruiting other doctors to screen for the condition delivers promising results.

"Already pharmacists and chiropodists have shown it is feasible to offer screening in their practices,” said Dr. Jenny Howse, who led the study. “In the U.S., 60 percent of adults visit dentists at least once a year for standard check-ups and those practices could be suitable locations to screen for diabetes.”

The findings show that adding opticians to this mix could be just as effective. However, Howse said that the logistics of referring patients to primary care physicians and sharing information would need to be worked out. Providing this type of screening would mean more time and cost for opticians, so a reimbursement strategy would need to be implemented.