Background: National guidelines in most countries set screening intervals for diabetic retinopathy (DR) that are insufficiently informed by contemporary incidence rates. This has unspecified implications for interval disease risks (IDs) of referable DR, disparities in ID between groups or individuals, time spent in referable state before screening (sojourn time), and workload. We explored the effect of various screening schedules on these outcomes and developed an open-access interactive policy tool informed by contemporary DR incidence rates.
Methods and Findings: Scottish Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme data from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2016 were linked to diabetes registry data. This yielded 128,606 screening examinations in people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and 1,384,360 examinations in people with type 2 diabetes (T2D). Among those with T1D, 47% of those without and 44% of those with referable DR were female, mean diabetes duration was 21 and 23 years, respectively, and mean age was 26 and 24 years, respectively. Among those with T2D, 44% of those without and 42% of those with referable DR were female, mean diabetes duration was 9 and 14 years, respectively, and mean age was 58 and 52 years, respectively. Individual probability of developing referable DR was estimated using a generalised linear model and was used to calculate the intervals needed to achieve various IDs across prior grade strata, or at the individual level, and the resultant workload and sojourn time. The current policy in Scotland-screening people with no or mild disease annually and moderate disease every 6 months-yielded large differences in ID by prior grade (13.2%, 3.6%, and 0.6% annually for moderate, mild, and no prior DR strata, respectively, in T1D) and diabetes type (2.4% in T1D and 0.6% in T2D overall). Maintaining these overall risks but equalising risk across prior grade strata would require extremely short intervals in those with moderate DR (1-2 months) and very long intervals in those with no prior DR (35-47 months), with little change in workload or average sojourn time. Changing to intervals of 12, 9, and 3 months in T1D and to 24, 9, and 3 months in T2D for no, mild, and moderate DR strata, respectively, would substantially reduce disparity in ID across strata and between diabetes types whilst reducing workload by 26% and increasing sojourn time by 2.3 months. Including clinical risk factor data gave a small but significant increment in prediction of referable DR beyond grade (increase in C-statistic of 0.013 in T1D and 0.016 in T2D, both p < 0.001). However, using this model to derive personalised intervals did not have substantial workload or sojourn time benefits over stratum-specific intervals. The main limitation is that the results are pertinent only to countries that share broadly similar rates of retinal disease and risk factor distributions to Scotland.
Conclusions: Changing current policies could reduce disparities in ID and achieve substantial reductions in workload within the range of IDs likely to be deemed acceptable. Our tool should facilitate more rational policy setting for screening.