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BACKGROUND: Patients with neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD) usually attend regular reviews, even when the disease is quiescent. Reviews are burdensome to health services, patients and carers.OBJECTIVES: To compare the proportion of correct lesion classifications made by community-based optometrists and ophthalmologists from vignettes of patients; to estimate the cost-effectiveness of community follow-up by optometrists compared with follow-up by ophthalmologists in the Hospital Eye Service (HES); to ascertain views of patients, their representatives, optometrists, ophthalmologists and clinical commissioners on the proposed shared care model.DESIGN: Community-based optometrists and ophthalmologists in the HES classified lesions from vignettes comprising clinical information, colour fundus photographs and optical coherence tomography images. Participants' classifications were validated against experts' classifications (reference standard).SETTING: Internet-based application.PARTICIPANTS: Ophthalmologists had to have ≥ 3 years post-registration experience in ophthalmology, have passed part 1 of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Diploma in Ophthalmology or equivalent examination, and have experience in the age-related macular degeneration service. Optometrists had to be fully qualified, be registered with the General Optical Council for ≥ 3 years and not be participating in nAMD shared care.INTERVENTIONS: The trial sought to emulate a conventional trial in comparing optometrists' and ophthalmologists' decision-making, but vignettes, not patients, were assessed; therefore, there were no interventions. Participants received training prior to assessing vignettes.MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Primary outcome - correct classification of the activity status of a lesion based on a vignette, compared with a reference standard. Secondary outcomes - frequencies of potentially sight-threatening errors, participants' judgements about specific lesion components, participant-rated confidence in their decisions and cost-effectiveness of follow-up by community-based optometrists compared with HES ophthalmologists.RESULTS: In total, 155 participants registered for the trial; 96 (48 in each professional group) completed training and main assessments and formed the analysis population. Optometrists and ophthalmologists achieved 1702 out of 2016 (84.4%) and 1722 out of 2016 (85.4%) correct classifications, respectively [odds ratio (OR) 0.91, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.66 to 1.25; p = 0.543]. Optometrists' decision-making was non-inferior to ophthalmologists' with respect to the pre-specified limit of 10% absolute difference (0.298 on the odds scale). Frequencies of sight-threatening errors were similar for optometrists and ophthalmologists [57/994 (5.7%) vs. 62/994 (6.2%), OR 0.93, 95% CI 0.55 to 1.57; p = 0.789]. Ophthalmologists assessed lesion components as present less often than optometrists and were more confident about their lesion classifications than optometrists. The mean care-pathway cost for assessment was very similar by group, namely £397.33 for ophthalmologists and £410.78 for optometrists. The optometrist-led monitoring reviews were slightly more costly and less effective than ophthalmologist-led reviews, although the differences were extremely small. There was consensus that optometrist-led monitoring has the potential to reduce clinical workload and be more patient-centred. However, potential barriers are ophthalmologists' perceptions of optometrists' competence, the need for clinical training, the ability of the professions to work collaboratively and the financial feasibility of shared care for Clinical Commissioning Groups.CONCLUSIONS: The ability of optometrists to make nAMD retreatment decisions from vignettes is non-inferior to that of ophthalmologists. Various barriers to implementing shared cared for nAMD were identified.FUTURE WORK RECOMMENDATIONS: The Effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and acceptability of Community versus Hospital Eye Service follow-up for patients with neovascular age-related macular degeneration with quiescent disease (ECHoES) study web application was robust and could be used for future training or research. The benefit of reducing HES workload was not considered in the economic evaluation. A framework of programme budgeting and marginal analysis could explicitly explore the resource implications of shifting resources within a given health service area, as the benefit of reducing HES workload was not considered in the economic evaluation. Future qualitative research could investigate professional differences of opinion that were identified in multidisciplinary focus groups.TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN07479761.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 Assessment; Vol. 20, No. 80. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.



Health technology assessment (Winchester, England)

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