Screening: Why Bother?

SriniVas Sadda, MD

Director, Artificial Intelligence
Professor of Ophthalmology, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

It’s just human nature to have a few items that don’t seem urgent forever stuck at the bottom of the to-do list. Screening for disease is like that. Feeling fine and not experiencing limitations or pain, we can all rationalize not looking for trouble. Who needs it? Yet, that is the definition of screening: looking for undiagnosed disease in patients who aren’t presenting problems. I know from the statistics, and my own practice, that screening for eye disease matters. I’ll share just one story.

A patient came in for an eye exam, complaining of some vision issues. In the course of doing a comprehensive eye exam, I found what looked to be a blob of cholesterol on a blood vessel. I flagged that and recommended the patient consult his general practitioner. Except for the eye issues, the patient told me he was feeling great. Totally asymptomatic. But he agreed to see the doctor about the small clot I saw. That eye exam proved to be life-saving. The doctor ran some tests and found the patient had nearly total blockage of a carotid artery. Untreated, that could have resulted in a massive stroke which could have even been fatal. Had my patient gone in for a routine screening, I’m inclined the think this clot or other clots would have been caught even earlier.

By looking into the eyes with the high-tech equipment Doheny uses, we can see brain tissue (the retina) and blood vessels, and really, it is like looking through a window into the body. Screening is undervalued by patients because it commands resources of time and money, and in the best case scenario, it yields nothing but a clean bill of health. Anyone who has been screened and come away with a diagnosis, however, can attest that the small investment was priceless.

In coming weeks, I’ll offer some insights to current advances in screening and access to care that Doheny and UCLA Jules Stein Eye Center doctors are working on now. The efforts are part of the quest to make it easier and more efficient to get routine eye exams. Because we know screening is a vital part of health care.


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