Research Article

Prevention of blindness by screening for diabetic retinopathy: a quantitative assessment.

BMJ 1989; 299 doi: (Published 11 November 1989) Cite this as: BMJ 1989;299:1198
  1. T. E. Rohan,
  2. C. D. Frost,
  3. N. J. Wald
  1. Department of Environmental and Preventive Medicine, St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, London.


    Diabetic retinopathy is an important cause of blindness in the Western World. A review of the randomised trials of laser photocoagulation of the retina as a method of preventing blindness from this disorder showed that this treatment is very effective, reducing the risk of blindness by 61% in a treated eye. As only one eye is needed for sight the reduction in blindness in a population will be greater than 61% because the effect of treatment in one eye is not always identical with the effect in the other eye. For analysis this reduction was taken as 73%, representing the average of the minimum and maximum estimates (61% and 85%). The effectiveness of this treatment suggests that there is the potential for a national screening programme to bring about a major reduction in blindness from this cause. A quantitative assessment of the effect of screening indicated that a programme in which patients with diabetes mellitus are systematically referred to ophthalmic opticians for a retinal examination could detect 88% of all diabetics with serious retinopathy and that 87% of these cases would be treatable. Screening and early treatment of retinopathy would prevent deterioration of visual acuity and could reduce the risk of blindness due to diabetic retinopathy by an estimated 56% (0.73 X 0.88 X 0.87). The findings suggest that an effectively managed community based screening programme encompassing detection, referral, treatment, and follow up would prevent about 260 new cases of blindness in diabetics under the age of 70 each year in England and Wales. This would represent over 10% of all cases of blindness in adults in this age group.