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Multimodal imaging interpreted by graders to detect re-activation of diabetic eye disease in previously treated patients: the EMERALD diagnostic accuracy study

Lookup NU author(s): Professor David SteelORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


BACKGROUND: Owing to the increasing prevalence of diabetes, the workload related to diabetic macular oedema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy is rising, making it difficult for hospital eye services to meet demands. OBJECTIVE: The objective was to evaluate the diagnostic performance, cost-effectiveness and acceptability of a new pathway using multimodal imaging interpreted by ophthalmic graders to detect reactivation of diabetic macular oedema/proliferative diabetic retinopathy in previously treated patients. DESIGN: This was a prospective, case-referent, cross-sectional diagnostic study. SETTING: The setting was ophthalmic clinics in 13 NHS hospitals. PARTICIPANTS: Adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes with previously successfully treated diabetic macular oedema/proliferative diabetic retinopathy in one/both eyes in whom, at the time of enrolment, diabetic macular oedema/proliferative diabetic retinopathy could be active or inactive. METHODS: For the ophthalmic grader pathway, review of the spectral domain optical coherence tomography scans to detect diabetic macular oedema, and seven-field Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study/ultra-wide field fundus images to detect proliferative diabetic retinopathy, by trained ophthalmic graders. For the current standard care pathway (reference standard), ophthalmologists examined patients face to face by slit-lamp biomicroscopy for proliferative diabetic retinopathy and, in addition, spectral domain optical coherence tomography imaging for diabetic macular oedema. OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome measure was sensitivity of the ophthalmic grader pathway to detect active diabetic macular oedema/proliferative diabetic retinopathy. The secondary outcomes were specificity, agreement between pathways, cost-consequences, acceptability and the proportion of patients requiring subsequent ophthalmologist assessment, unable to undergo imaging and with inadequate quality images/indeterminate findings. It was assumed for the main analysis that all patients in whom graders diagnosed active disease or were 'unsure' or images were 'ungradable' required examination by an ophthalmologist. RESULTS: Eligible participants with active and inactive diabetic macular oedema (152 and 120 participants, respectively) and active and inactive proliferative diabetic retinopathy (111 and 170 participants, respectively) were recruited. Under the main analysis, graders had a sensitivity of 97% (142/147) (95% confidence interval 92% to 99%) and specificity of 31% (35/113) (95% confidence interval 23% to 40%) to detect diabetic macular oedema. For proliferative diabetic retinopathy, graders had a similar sensitivity and specificity using seven-field Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study [sensitivity 85% (87/102), 95% confidence interval 77% to 91%; specificity 48% (77/160), 95% confidence interval 41% to 56%] or ultra-wide field imaging [sensitivity 83% (87/105), 95% confidence interval 75% to 89%; specificity 54% (86/160), 95% confidence interval 46% to 61%]. Participants attending focus groups expressed preference for face-to-face evaluations by ophthalmologists. In the ophthalmologists' absence, patients voiced the need for immediate feedback following grader's assessments, maintaining periodic evaluations by ophthalmologists. Graders and ophthalmologists were supportive of the new pathway. When compared with the reference standard (current standard pathway), the new grader pathway could save £1390 per 100 patients in the review of people with diabetic macular oedema and, depending on the imaging modality used, between £461 and £1189 per 100 patients in the review of people with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. CONCLUSIONS: For people with diabetic macular oedema, the ophthalmic grader pathway appears safe and cost saving. The sensitivity of the new pathway to detect active proliferative diabetic retinopathy was lower, but may still be considered acceptable for patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy previously treated with laser. Suggestions from focus group discussions should be taken into consideration if the new pathway is introduced to ensure its acceptability to users. LIMITATIONS: Lack of fundus fluorescein angiography to confirm diagnosis of active proliferative diabetic retinopathy. FUTURE WORK: Could refinement of the new pathway increase its sensitivity to detect proliferative diabetic retinopathy? Could artificial intelligence be used for automated reading of images in this previously treated population? TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN10856638 and NCT03490318. FUNDING: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology AssessmentVol. 25, No. 32. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.More and more people are developing diabetes. Diabetic macular oedema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy are complications of diabetes, which could cause blindness. Thus, people with diabetic macular oedema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy need to be treated in a timely manner and reviewed in clinic for life. The population in the world is ageing. As a result, there are more people with eye diseases. There are also more treatments now for people with eye diseases. The workload in hospitals is increasing, making it difficult for the NHS to cope with the demand. There are not enough ophthalmologists (eye doctors) to look after patients. Delayed appointments and treatment mean that patients may lose sight. The goal of EMERALD (Effectiveness of Multimodal imaging for the Evaluation of Retinal oedema And new vesseLs in Diabetic retinopathy) was to see if patients with treated and stable diabetic macular oedema or proliferative diabetic retinopathy could be followed by ‘ophthalmic graders’, who are not doctors but are trained to diagnose diabetic macular oedema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy. In EMERALD, trained ophthalmic graders examined photographs of the back of the eye of people with diabetic macular oedema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy. They checked if diabetic macular oedema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy remain inactive. If so, patients could continue follow-up with the ophthalmic graders. If diabetic macular oedema or proliferative diabetic retinopathy were active, graders would immediately refer patients to ophthalmologists. EMERALD found that graders were excellent at detecting diabetic macular oedema, and this could give ophthalmologists time to see other patients. Graders were not quite as good at detecting active proliferative diabetic retinopathy. However, considering that patients had already had treatment, this may still be safe. Patients participating in focus group discussions mentioned that they would prefer to see ophthalmologists, so they could ask questions about their eye condition. If this was not possible, they would like to have immediate results from graders and still see the ophthalmologist from time to time.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lois N, Cook J, Wang A, Aldington S, Mistry H, Maredza M, McAuley D, Aslam T, Bailey C, Chong V, Ghanchi F, Scanlon P, Sivaprasad S, Steel D, Styles C, Azuara-Blanco A, Prior L, Waugh N

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Health Technology Assessment

Year: 2021

Volume: 25

Issue: 32

Pages: 1-104

Online publication date: 01/06/2021

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

Date deposited: 04/12/2023

ISSN (print): 1366-5278

Publisher: NIHR


DOI: 10.3310/hta25320

PubMed id: 34060440


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