Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is the leading cause of blindness among working-aged adults aged 20 to 74 years. Despite professional association guidelines that recommend yearly screening for DR, only about 60% of Americans with diabetes mellitus (DM) receive annual examinations. The purpose of this 2-phase study was to determine the ability of family medicine (FM) physicians to accurately interpret retinal images of patients with DM.
Five FM physicians received a 1-hour lecture on DR by a retinal specialist after which the physicians were shown 30 ultrawide-field retina images and asked to determine whether the images contained signs of DR (phase 1).
Patients with DM who had not received an eye examination within the past year underwent nonmydriatic retinal photography in a FM clinic (phase 2). The 5 FM physicians were asked to evaluate the images for signs of DR and the images were simultaneously sent to a retinal specialist for independent interpretation. The diagnoses of the FM physicians and retina specialist were compared. Patients were informed of their results and were asked to complete a brief telephone survey regarding their experience with the screening process.
Thirty retina images, 5 with DR and 25 without DR, were included in the postlecture assessment. Each of the 30 images was reviewed by all 5 FM physicians. Of the 5 images with DR, 3 were correctly diagnosed by all 5 FM physicians, 1 was correctly diagnosed by 4, and 1 was accurately diagnosed by 3. Overall accuracy for the 5 FM physicians was 100%, 100%, 100%, 97%, and 87%. Among the 34 patients included in phase 2, 3 (8%) were diagnosed with DR by the retinal specialist but 8 (24%) were diagnosed with DR by the FM physicians. Of the 3 patients with DR confirmed by the retinal specialist, only 1 was detected by the FM physicians (sensitivity, 33%; 95% CI, 1% to 91%). Of the 31 patients without DR as determined by the retinal specialist, 24 were accurately diagnosed by the FM physicians (specificity, 77%; 95% CI, 59% to 90%). The screening procedure was considered easy/efficient by 28 of 31 (90%) respondents.
To improve early detection of DR new screening methods should be considered. FM physicians were able to accurately identify DR on postlecture images but were not as accurate when evaluating images taken from patients in the FM clinic. Patients found the screening process to be easy and efficient. This study was limited by the small sample size, particularly the limited number of DR cases. Future studies that include cases with a wide variation of DR severity are needed to determine the accuracy of FM physicians at detecting DR in a clinical setting.

© Copyright 2021 by the American Board of Family Medicine.