CarePortMD urgent care clinics offer AI-based eye screening in grocery stores

When Raj Palat walked into the grocery store to get his eyes tested at an urgent care clinic, he had no symptoms of diabetic eye disease. A diabetic, he heard about a new screening at the CarePortMD clinic and decided to get checked out. IDx-DR screening is at four of their five clinics in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and they are installing one in Rehoboth soon.

After 10 minutes, Palat knew he had tested positive for diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness.

CarePortMD immediately set up a follow-up appointment with a nearby eye doctor who accepts his insurance.

“Having it set up and ready to go within a couple of days was fantastic for me. Especially when you want to jump right on it instead of stewing about the new discovery,” Palat said.

He said no other medical tests picked up the early eye damage. His eye doctor said he thinks it’s a difference in technology.

The FDA-approved screening was created by IDx Technologies, an artificial intelligence diagnostics company.

A camera takes four pictures of the back of the patient’s eyes and sends those to the AI system, which identifies patterns associated with diabetic retinopathy, then turns out a positive or negative result.

If positive, the photos might show hemorrhages, splotches or white spots, Jill Terrill of IDx said. Leaders in the industry said the AI system can more accurately recognize those patterns than a human being.

“It’s so exciting to have [screening] in a retail environment where you can literally do your shopping and at the same time get this diabetic eye exam at a quality and accuracy that is higher than me, a pretty experienced retina specialist,” said Dr. Michael Abramoff, founder and CEO of IDx and ophthalmologist at the University of Iowa.

After receiving the screening results, a medical associate at the clinic will connect the patient with a physician through a video call. The clinic will then coordinate all follow-up care.

This might take 15 minutes at most, said Michele Reed, lead manager at the CarePortMD at Safeway in Dover.

“It’s all about convenience and healthcare consumerism,” said Dr. Ashok Subramanian, CEO of CarePortMD. All CarePortMD clinics are in grocery stores.

Beyond convenience, CarePortMD aims for lower costs and better accessibility, said Edward C. White, chief operating officer.

For the eye screening, all carriers, including Medicare, will cover the technical component and patients will pay whatever copay is on their insurance card, representatives said.

The screening is for those with diabetes who are 22 or older, but if patients already have symptoms or vision problems, they should see an eye specialist right away, representatives from CarePortMD and IDx said.

The CarePortMD clinic at the Safeway in Dover opened in September and it’s open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

IDx is developing more AI-based diagnostic systems for macular degeneration, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke risk.

“The healthcare system is adapting to this artificial intelligence era where we have autonomous systems making diagnoses. So, we need to get used to it, and we need to learn how to work with it,” Abramoff said.