Objectives To compare the ability of ophthalmologists versus optometrists to correctly classify retinal lesions due to neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD).
Design Randomised balanced incomplete block trial. Optometrists in the community and ophthalmologists in the Hospital Eye Service classified lesions from vignettes comprising clinical information, colour fundus photographs and optical coherence tomographic images. Participants' classifications were validated against experts' classifications (reference standard).
Setting Internet-based application.
Participants Ophthalmologists with experience in the age-related macular degeneration service; fully qualified optometrists not participating in nAMD shared care.
Interventions The trial emulated a conventional trial comparing optometrists' and ophthalmologists' decision-making, but vignettes, not patients, were assessed. Therefore, there were no interventions and the trial was virtual. Participants received training before 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—potentially sight-threatening errors, judgements about specific lesion components and participants' confidence in their decisions.
Results In total, 155 participants registered for the trial; 96 (48 in each group) completed all assessments and formed the analysis population. Optometrists and ophthalmologists achieved 1702/2016 (84.4%) and 1722/2016 (85.4%) correct classifications, respectively (OR 0.91, 95% CI 0.66 to 1.25; p=0.543). Optometrists' decision-making was non-inferior to ophthalmologists' with respect to the prespecified limit of 10% absolute difference (0.298 on the odds scale). Optometrists and ophthalmologists made similar numbers of sight-threatening errors (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 classifications than optometrists.
Conclusions Optometrists' ability to make nAMD retreatment decisions from vignettes is not inferior to ophthalmologists' ability. Shared care with optometrists monitoring quiescent nAMD lesions has the potential to reduce workload in hospitals.