As an ophthalmologist, I see too many individuals with diabetes who lose vision needlessly from diabetic retinopathy, primarily because they are not diagnosed and treated in time.Thankfully, new advances in technology, particularly in AI, promise to close this care gap and enable early detection where these individuals are, in primary care.

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is the leading cause of blindness among working age adults in the United States. The disease causes vision loss in an estimated 24,000 Americans annually. However, in 90% of people with diabetes, blindness can be prevented or delayed through regular retinal examinations and treatment, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

That’s why so many eyecare professionals find it frustrating that DR continues to plague the U.S. healthcare system year after year. Simply put: We are aware that DR is a problem and we know how to manage and treat it, yet in recent decades we’ve made little progress reversing the trend – in large part because as many as half of all people with diabetes do not receive recommended annual eye exams, according to the CDC.

More alarmingly, without a change in our approach to detecting DR, the problem could get worse because of the skyrocketing rate of diabetes across the U.S. The data are worrisome and eye-popping: Between 2017 and 2045, the number of people worldwide with diabetes is expected to increase 48 percent to 629 million, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

It doesn’t have to be this way - and it shouldn’t be this way. Placing autonomous artificial intelligence-based diagnostics for DR in PCP offices may increase the number of people with diabetes who get their retinal exam - because that is where individuals with diabetes receive their care most often.