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Billions of dollars saved with eye imaging technology co-invented by OHSU physician

Researchers estimate cost savings from optical coherence tomography, or OCT
oct image

A non-invasive imaging technology used to evaluate eye health has saved the U.S. government and patients billions of dollars, a new study reveals.

Medicare and its patients saved a combined $11.2 billion between 2008 and 2015 by using optical coherence tomography, also known as OCT, according to a paper published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology.

The cost savings are a result of physicians being able to provide personalized care by using OCT scans to decide how often prescription injections are needed to treat eyes with advanced forms of macular degeneration. This often leads to reduced number of injections, which reduces cost as well as pain and complications.

OHSU Casey Eye Institute’s David Huang, M.D., who co-invented OCT in the early 1990s, is the study’s corresponding author. His co-authors include economists, a retina specialist and another co-inventor.

“This shows how valuable biomedical research can be,” Huang said. “The OCT technology not only saves the government and patients money, but also makes medical practice more effective.”

OCT is a quick scan that takes a few seconds to minutes. It shines invisible infrared light into the eye to form images. Unlike ordinary photography, OCT produces detailed cross-sectional images and can measure very thin layers inside the eye. OCT is used to monitor eye health and is particularly important in age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic eye disease - the three leading causes of blindness.

The researchers specifically reviewed the cases of patients with wet macular degeneration whose conditions were monitored with OCT. Between 2008 and 2015, Medicare’s approximately 600,000 patients receiving treatment for that condition saved $2.2 billion, while the U.S. government saved $9 billion, the authors concluded.

The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have provided about $400 million in grants to support OCT’s development during the past 20 years. When taking into consideration the federal government’s estimated cost savings from covering less medication due to OCT scans, the research team concluded the federal government is receiving a 21-fold return on its investment.

For more information, see the journal’s accompanying editorial and an announcement from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

Huang’s work on this paper was supported by National Institutes of Health grants R01 EY018184, R01 EY023285, UL1TR000128, R01 EY024544 and P30 EY010572, as well as the Antonio Champalimaud Vision Award and an unrestricted grant from Research to Prevent Blindness to the Casey Eye Institute at OHSU.

In the interest of ensuring the integrity of our research and as part of our commitment to public transparency, OHSU actively regulates, tracks and manages relationships that our researchers may hold with entities outside of OHSU. In regards to this research, David Huang has financial interests in Optovue, a company that may have a commercial interest in the results of this research and technology. Review details of OHSU's conflict of interest program to find out more about how we manage these business relationships.

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