Introduction: Diabetes is the leading cause of lower limb amputation in Australia. However, due to limited resources, it is not feasible for everyone with diabetes to access podiatry care, and some objective guidelines of who should receive podiatry is required.
Methods: A total of 250 patients with neuropathy (Biothesiometer; Biomedical Instruments, Newbury, Ohio, USA) ( > 30, age < 65)) but no active foot lesion, and 222 without neuropathy matched for age, type of diabetes, gender and duration, was followed prospectively for 2 years. Sensation was also tested using a 10 g Semmes Weinstein monofilament (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Diabetes Centre). After the baseline examination, patients were contacted at 6 months and thereafter yearly to determine ulcer status. Incidence of foot ulceration across different risk categories was calculated using Kaplan-Meier survival curve. Log-rank test and Cox's proportional model were used to compare groups. The Number Needed to Treat (NNT) to prevent one ulcer per year was calculated using the standard formulae.
Results: During the follow-up period, 34 new ulcers occurred in the neuropathy group and three ulcers in the control group (chi2 (1df) = 21.3; P < 0.0001), equating to an annual incidence of 6.3% and 0.5%, respectively. Fifty-four per cent of the ulcers were due to trauma from footwear. Further stratification of the neuropathy group showed annual incidence of ulceration to be 4% for those with abnormal biothesiometer reading, but who could still feel the monofilament, 10% for those who cannot feel the monofilament and 26% for those with previous ulceration or amputation. Predictors of ulceration were past history of ulceration/amputation (chi2 = 27.8; P < 0.0001) and the presence of neuropathy (chi2 = 4.7; P = 0.03). Assuming a 55% relative risk reduction in ulceration from podiatry care (mean of estimates from 10 reports), the NNT to prevent one foot ulcer per year was: no neuropathy (vibration perception threshold (VPT) < 30)), NNT = 367; neuropathy (VPT > 30) alone, NNT = 45; +cannot feel monofilament, NNT = 18; +previous ulcer/amputation, NNT = 7.
Conclusion: Provision of podiatry care to diabetic patients should not be only economically based, but should also be directed to those with reduced sensation, especially where there is a previous history of ulceration or amputation.