Diabetic retinopathy (DR) has become a leading cause of global blindness as a microvascular complication of diabetes. Regular screening of diabetic retinopathy is strongly recommended for people with diabetes so that timely treatment can be provided to reduce the incidence of visual impairment. However, DR screening is not well carried out due to lack of eye care facilities, especially in the rural areas of China. Artificial intelligence (AI) based DR screening has emerged as a novel strategy and show promising diagnostic performance in sensitivity and specificity, relieving the pressure of the shortage of facilities and ophthalmologists because of its quick and accurate diagnosis. In this study, we estimated the cost-effectiveness of AI screening for DR in rural China based on Markov model, providing evidence for extending use of AI screening for DR.
We estimated the cost-effectiveness of AI screening and compared it with ophthalmologist screening in which fundus images are evaluated by ophthalmologists. We developed a Markov model-based hybrid decision tree to analyze the costs, effectiveness and incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of AI screening strategies relative to no screening strategies and ophthalmologist screening strategies (dominated) over 35 years (mean life expectancy of diabetes patients in rural China). The analysis was conducted from the health system perspective (included direct medical costs) and societal perspective (included medical and nonmedical costs). Effectiveness was analyzed with quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). The robustness of results was estimated by performing one-way sensitivity analysis and probabilistic analysis.
From the health system perspective, AI screening and ophthalmologist screening had incremental costs of $180.19 and $215.05 but more quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) compared with no screening. AI screening had an ICER of $1,107.63. From the societal perspective which considers all direct and indirect costs, AI screening had an ICER of $10,347.12 compared with no screening, below the cost-effective threshold (1-3 times per capita GDP of Chinese in 2019).
Our analysis demonstrates that AI-based screening is more cost-effective compared with conventional ophthalmologist screening and holds great promise to be an alternative approach for DR screening in the rural area of China.

© 2022. The Author(s).