Introduction: Screening programmes for diabetic retinopathy follow guidelines that ensure that vision-threatening complications are detected even when the disease progression is fast. This implies that patients with slow disease progression will be recommended examinations more often than needed.
Method: On the basis of previously defined individual risk factors, multiple logistic regression was used to develop a model for individualized determination of the screening interval in diabetic retinopathy, while adjusting for the fact that in the data set used to construct the model, the screening interval acted as a time-dependent confounder. The model was tested on 1372 patients screened during year 2000.
Results: It was possible to construct a model for calculating the optimal screening interval in low-risk patients in whom the recommended screening interval was longer than 12 months. When the probability of reaching a treatment requiring event was set to 0.5%, none of the patients reached a treatment end-point in a validation of the model, and the screening interval was prolonged on average 2.9 times in patients with type 1 diabetes and 1.2 times in those with type 2 diabetes. The predictive strength of the model depended on the number of variables included.
Conclusions: It is possible to construct a model for optimizing the examination interval during screening for diabetic retinopathy in low-risk patients. The model can potentially be improved by identifying unknown or unmeasured confounders and by including knowledge of risk factors before and after the examination on the basis of which the prediction is made.