BACKGROUND: Owing to the increasing prevalence of diabetes, the workload related to diabetic macular oedema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy is rising, making it difficult for hospital eye services to meet demands.
OBJECTIVE: The objective was to evaluate the diagnostic performance, cost-effectiveness and acceptability of a new pathway using multimodal imaging interpreted by ophthalmic graders to detect reactivation of diabetic macular oedema/proliferative diabetic retinopathy in previously treated patients.
DESIGN: This was a prospective, case-referent, cross-sectional diagnostic study.
SETTING: The setting was ophthalmic clinics in 13 NHS hospitals.
PARTICIPANTS: Adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes with previously successfully treated diabetic macular oedema/proliferative diabetic retinopathy in one/both eyes in whom, at the time of enrolment, diabetic macular oedema/proliferative diabetic retinopathy could be active or inactive.
METHODS: For the ophthalmic grader pathway, review of the spectral domain optical coherence tomography scans to detect diabetic macular oedema, and seven-field Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study/ultra-wide field fundus images to detect proliferative diabetic retinopathy, by trained ophthalmic graders. For the current standard care pathway (reference standard), ophthalmologists examined patients face to face by slit-lamp biomicroscopy for proliferative diabetic retinopathy and, in addition, spectral domain optical coherence tomography imaging for diabetic macular oedema.
OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome measure was sensitivity of the ophthalmic grader pathway to detect active diabetic macular oedema/proliferative diabetic retinopathy. The secondary outcomes were specificity, agreement between pathways, cost-consequences, acceptability and the proportion of patients requiring subsequent ophthalmologist assessment, unable to undergo imaging and with inadequate quality images/indeterminate findings. It was assumed for the main analysis that all patients in whom graders diagnosed active disease or were 'unsure' or images were 'ungradable' required examination by an ophthalmologist.
RESULTS: Eligible participants with active and inactive diabetic macular oedema (152 and 120 participants, respectively) and active and inactive proliferative diabetic retinopathy (111 and 170 participants, respectively) were recruited. Under the main analysis, graders had a sensitivity of 97% (142/147) (95% confidence interval 92% to 99%) and specificity of 31% (35/113) (95% confidence interval 23% to 40%) to detect diabetic macular oedema. For proliferative diabetic retinopathy, graders had a similar sensitivity and specificity using seven-field Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study [sensitivity 85% (87/102), 95% confidence interval 77% to 91%; specificity 48% (77/160), 95% confidence interval 41% to 56%] or ultra-wide field imaging [sensitivity 83% (87/105), 95% confidence interval 75% to 89%; specificity 54% (86/160), 95% confidence interval 46% to 61%]. Participants attending focus groups expressed preference for face-to-face evaluations by ophthalmologists. In the ophthalmologists' absence, patients voiced the need for immediate feedback following grader's assessments, maintaining periodic evaluations by ophthalmologists. Graders and ophthalmologists were supportive of the new pathway. When compared with the reference standard (current standard pathway), the new grader pathway could save £1390 per 100 patients in the review of people with diabetic macular oedema and, depending on the imaging modality used, between £461 and £1189 per 100 patients in the review of people with proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
CONCLUSIONS: For people with diabetic macular oedema, the ophthalmic grader pathway appears safe and cost saving. The sensitivity of the new pathway to detect active proliferative diabetic retinopathy was lower, but may still be considered acceptable for patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy previously treated with laser. Suggestions from focus group discussions should be taken into consideration if the new pathway is introduced to ensure its acceptability to users.
LIMITATIONS: Lack of fundus fluorescein angiography to confirm diagnosis of active proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
FUTURE WORK: Could refinement of the new pathway increase its sensitivity to detect proliferative diabetic retinopathy? Could artificial intelligence be used for automated reading of images in this previously treated population?
TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN10856638 and ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03490318.