Objective: To investigate the changes in referral, examination and treatment practices for diabetic retinopathy by ophthalmologists and optometrists following the release of national guidelines. Methods: A two-page self-administered questionnaire was mailed to all Australian ophthalmologists and a random sample of 500 Australian optometrists prior to and 1 year after release of the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) clinical practice guidelines for the management of diabetic retinopathy. The questionnaires elicited information about current practice related to the management of patients with diabetic retinopathy. Results: Of the 464 contactable ophthalmologists who responded to the baseline survey, 374 (80.6% response) completed the follow-up survey. The response rate for the contactable optometrists was 80.1% (310 of 384). There were almost no significant changes in management practices from baseline to follow up. For example, the percentage of ophthalmologists who reported that they were often or almost always confident in detecting moderate retinal thickening near the macula remained nearly identical from baseline to follow up (80.2% vs 79.1%). The rate was also similar from baseline to follow up for optometrists (31.1% vs 28.8%). The one area in which ophthalmologists reported significant changes in management towards agreement with the NHMRC guidelines was use of angiography; they were less likely to manage their patients this way (20.4% vs 14.2% with laser and 48.9% vs 38.4% without laser for increasing level of severity in clinical signs; both P < 0.05). Conclusions: The NHMRC guidelines for diabetic retinopathy have been successfully distributed to ophthalmologists and optometrists in Australia. However, the mere provision of the guidelines has had little impact on management practices. It will be important to determine if ongoing dissemination and implementation strategies not only increase awareness of health-care practitioners to the guidelines, but also change behaviours.
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Evaluation studies
- Health services research
- Physician's practice patterns
- Practice guidelines