Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a potentially blinding eye disorder that affects premature babies. It results in the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina (the layer of cells at the back of the eye that allows us to see).
According to the National Eye Institute, ROP “is one of the most common causes of visual loss in childhood and can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness.” It is estimated that 15,000 children living in the United States are diagnosed with ROP each year. The disorder can occur in babies that are born before 31 weeks of gestation and weigh 2 ¾ pounds or less.
Although some premature infants are at risk for developing ROP, advancements in medicine such as timely laser therapy, intraocular medications, and initiatives such as Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s ROP Continuity of Care program reduces the chances for the disease to cause further complications. Serious eye problems that can develop as a result of ROP include detachment of the retina, glaucoma, strabismus and blindness.
Jamaica Hospital’s ROP Safety Net program aims to educate the community about the disorder, provide quality care to premature infants, and improve follow-up rates for patients who required ROP screening or treatment during their stay in the NICU. “ROP is an issue that affects our community but many people are unaware of the disorder, we want to change that,” explained the hospital’s ROP Coordinator Maria Estevez.
The hospital’s multi-leveled approach to care has made its ROP Continuity of Care program a success. At birth, premature babies who are at risk for ROP are screened for the disease by way of a thorough ophthalmological evaluation. If it is found that a baby has active ROP, a specially trained ophthalmologist will determine the best course of action to treat the patient. Treatment can include a series of examinations, as well as laser therapy or intravitreal injections. Education and support are offered from birth until the child matures to eighteen years of age. “Our team monitors the health of each patient diagnosed by constantly following up and coordinating their appointments. We send reminders and offer additional tools to help parents stay on top of their child’s healthcare and eye care,” said Estevez.
Since implementing the ROP Safety Net program in 2016, Jamaica Hospital has experienced a significant incline in follow up rates. Prior to implementation, follow up rates were 58.2%; the hospital currently boasts a rate of 92.2%. “We are pleased with these numbers. They are a reflection of our efforts to educate parents and encourage them to actively follow up with the necessary care for their children,” shared Dr. Julia Shulman, Chairperson of Ophthalmology at Jamaica Hospital, and Director of the ROP Service.
ROP is an avoidable cause for blindness. Jamaica Hospital hopes that by initiating programs such as the ROP Continuity of Care, it can decrease the incidence of visual loss or blindness associated with the disorder. The hospital plans to link its community with a system of ROP care where support and comprehensive services are offered on a long-term basis.
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