Background: In patients who have had type 1 diabetes for 5 years, current recommendations regarding screening for diabetic retinopathy include annual dilated retinal examinations to detect proliferative retinopathy or clinically significant macular edema, both of which require timely intervention to preserve vision. During 30 years of the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) and its longitudinal follow-up Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions and Complications (EDIC) study, retinal photography was performed at intervals of 6 months to 4 years.
Methods: We used retinal photographs from the DCCT/EDIC study to develop a rational screening frequency for retinopathy. Markov modeling was used to determine the likelihood of progression to proliferative diabetic retinopathy or clinically significant macular edema in patients with various initial retinopathy levels (no retinopathy or mild, moderate, or severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy). The models included recognized risk factors for progression of retinopathy.
Results: Overall, the probability of progression to proliferative diabetic retinopathy or clinically significant macular edema was limited to approximately 5% between retinal screening examinations at 4 years among patients who had no retinopathy, 3 years among those with mild retinopathy, 6 months among those with moderate retinopathy, and 3 months among those with severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. The risk of progression was also closely related to mean glycated hemoglobin levels. The risk of progression from no retinopathy to proliferative diabetic retinopathy or clinically significant macular edema was 1.0% over 5 years among patients with a glycated hemoglobin level of 6%, as compared with 4.3% over 3 years among patients with a glycated hemoglobin level of 10%. Over a 20-year period, the frequency of eye examinations was 58% lower with our practical, evidence-based schedule than with routine annual examinations, which resulted in substantial cost savings.
Conclusions: Our model for establishing an individualized schedule for retinopathy screening on the basis of the patient's current state of retinopathy and glycated hemoglobin level reduced the frequency of eye examinations without delaying the diagnosis of clinically significant disease. (Funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and others; DCCT/EDIC ClinicalTrials.gov numbers, NCT00360893 and NCT00360815 .).