Background: Coeliac disease is still under-diagnosed as a consequence of poor physician awareness of the clinical spectrum of the disease. We evaluated the feasibility and the cost-effectiveness of a case-finding approach for early identification of cases, carried out by primary care practitioners.
Methods: We developed a case-finding strategy based on testing for anti-tissue transglutaminase IgA antibodies in subjects showing predefined signs and symptoms or belonging to at-risk groups.
Results: Sixty-nine primary care doctors and 60 primary care paediatricians agreed to participate. One thousand forty-one adults and 447 children were selected for anti-tissue transglutaminase testing during the year of the study (2001). Thirty-one (2.08%, 19 adults and 12 children) were ultimately diagnosed as coeliac patients. While no cases of coeliac disease had been diagnosed by the participating doctors in the previous year, 29 subjects were diagnosed as coeliacs in the year after the completion of the study (2002). The prevalence of confirmed coeliac disease in the population under study increased from 1:1,506 to 1:1,073 in adults and from 1:827 to 1:687 in children from year 2000 to 2001. When cases diagnosed in 2002 are included, the prevalence is 1:832 and 1:602, respectively. We calculated a cost of 923.25 euros for each new case diagnosed.
Conclusions: Case-finding is a feasible and successful strategy for detecting undiagnosed coeliac patients and has the important added value of increasing the awareness of the disease among primary care physicians; it represents a cost-effective alternative to population screening for reducing the burden of undiagnosed coeliac disease.