Effectiveness of Teleretinal Imaging-Based Hospital Referral Compared With Universal Referral in Identifying Diabetic Retinopathy: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Ophthalmol. 2019 Jul 1;137(7):786-792. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2019.1070.


Importance: Studies in high-income countries provide limited evidence from randomized clinical trials on the benefits of teleretinal screening to identify diabetic retinopathy (DR).

Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of teleretinal-screening hospital referral (TR) compared with universal hospital referral (UR) in people with diabetes.

Design, setting, and participants: A cluster randomized clinical trial of 8 diabetes clinics within 10 km from Aravind Eye Hospital (AEH), Madurai, India, was conducted. Participants included 801 patients older than 50 years. The study was conducted from May 21, 2014, to February 7, 2015; data analysis was performed from March 12 to June 16, 2015.

Interventions: In the TR cohort, nonmydriatic, 3-field, 45° retinal images were remotely graded by a retinal specialist and patients with DR, probable DR, or ungradable images were referred to AEH for a retinal examination. In the UR cohort, all patients were referred for a retinal examination at AEH.

Main outcomes and measures: Hospital-diagnosed DR.

Results: Of the 801 participants, 401 were women (50.1%) (mean [SD] age, 60.0 [7.3] years); mean diabetes duration was 8.6 (6.6) years. In the TR cohort, 96 of 398 patients (24.1%) who underwent teleretinal imaging were referred with probable DR (53 [13.3%]) or nongradable images (43 [10.8%]). Hospital attendance at AEH was proportionately higher with TR (54 of 96 referred [56.3%]) compared with UR (150 of 400 referred [37.5%]). The intention-to-treat analysis based on all patients eligible for referral in each arm showed that proportionately more patients with TR (36 of 96 [37.5]%) were diagnosed with DR compared with UR (50 of 400 [12.5%]) (unadjusted risk ratio [RR], 3.00; 95% CI, 2.01-4.48). These results were little changed by inclusion of covariates (RR, 2.72; 95% CI, 1.90-3.91). The RR was lower in the per-protocol analysis based on all patients who adhered to referral (covariate-adjusted RR, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.12-2.74). Diagnoses of DR were predominantly mild or moderate nonproliferative DR (36 in TR and 43 in UR). In the UR arm, there were 4 cases of severe nonproliferative DR and 2 cases of proliferative DR. Age (RR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.95-0.99), female sex (RR, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.64-0.98), and hypertension diagnosis (RR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.68-0.95) were factors associated with lower attendance. Those with higher secondary educational level or more were twice as likely to attend (RR, 2.00; 95% CI, 1.32-3.03).

Conclusions and relevance: The proportionate yield of DR cases was higher in the TR arm, confirming the potential benefit, at least in the setting of eye hospitals in India, of a targeted referral approach using teleretinal screening to identify patients with DR.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02085681.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / diagnosis*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Program Evaluation
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Telemedicine / methods*
  • Vision Screening / methods*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02085681