Is diabetic retinopathy screening worthwhile among people first diagnosed with diabetes at older ages? A cohort study of Norfolk diabetic retinopathy screening programme

James Brodie, Aseema Misra, Colin D. Jones, Chrystal Jenkins, Max O. Bachmann

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Aims: England's Diabetic Eye Disease Screening Programme offers screening to every resident over age 12 with diabetes, starting as soon as possible after diagnosis and repeated annually. People first diagnosed with diabetes at older ages have shorter life expectancy and therefore may be less likely to benefit from screening and treatment. To inform decisions about whether diabetic eye screening policy should be stratified by age, we investigated the probability of receiving treatment according to age at first screening episode.

Methods: This was a cohort study of participants in the Norfolk Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme from 2006 to 2017, with individuals' programme data linked to hospital treatment and death data recorded up to 2021. We estimated and compared the probability, annual incidence and screening costs of receiving retinal laser photocoagulation or intravitreal injection and of death, in age groups defined by age at first screening episode.

Results: The probability of death increased with increasing age at diagnosis, while the probability of receiving either treatment decreased with increasing age. The estimated cost of screening per person who received either or both treatments was £18,608 among all participants, increasing with age up to £21,721 in those aged 70–79 and £26,214 in those aged 80–89.

Conclusions: Diabetic retinopathy screening is less effective and less cost-effective with increasing age at diagnosis of diabetes, because of the increasing probability of death before participants develop sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy and can benefit from treatment. Upper age limits on entry into screening programmes or risk stratification in older age groups may, therefore, be justifiable.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15164
JournalDiabetic Medicine
Issue number2
Early online date11 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

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