A comparative evaluation of digital imaging, retinal photography and optometrist examination in screening for diabetic retinopathy

Diabet Med. 2003 Jul;20(7):528-34. doi: 10.1046/j.1464-5491.2003.00969.x.


Aims: To compare the respective performances of digital retinal imaging, fundus photography and slit-lamp biomicroscopy performed by trained optometrists, in screening for diabetic retinopathy. To assess the potential contribution of automated digital image analysis to a screening programme.

Methods: A group of 586 patients recruited from a diabetic clinic underwent three or four mydriatic screening methods for retinal examination. The respective performances of digital imaging (n=586; graded manually), colour slides (n=586; graded manually), and slit-lamp examination by specially trained optometrists (n=485), were evaluated against a reference standard of slit-lamp biomicroscopy by ophthalmologists with a special interest in medical retina. The performance of automated grading of the digital images by computer was also assessed.

Results: Slit-lamp examination by optometrists for referable diabetic retinopathy achieved a sensitivity of 73% (52-88) and a specificity of 90% (87-93). Using two-field imaging, manual grading of red-free digital images achieved a sensitivity of 93% (82-98) and a specificity of 87% (84-90), and for colour slides, a sensitivity of 96% (87-100) and a specificity of 89% (86-91). Almost identical results were achieved for both methods with single macular field imaging. Digital imaging had a lower technical failure rate (4.4% of patients) than colour slide photography (11.9%). Applying an automated grading protocol to the digital images detected any retinopathy, with a sensitivity of 83% (77-89) and a specificity of 71% (66-75) and diabetic macular oedema with a sensitivity of 76% (53-92) and a specificity of 85% (82-88).

Conclusions: Both manual grading methods produced similar results whether using a one- or two-field protocol. Technical failures rates, and hence need for recall, were lower with digital imaging. One-field grading of fundus photographs appeared to be as effective as two-field. The optometrists achieved the lowest sensitivities but reported no technical failures. Automated grading of retinal images can improve efficiency of resource utilization in diabetic retinopathy screening.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / diagnosis*
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Ophthalmological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Optometry / methods
  • Photography / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity