Open Access Open Badges Research article

The effectiveness and efficiency of diabetes screening in Ontario, Canada: a population-based cohort study

Sarah E Wilson12*, Laura C Rosella12, Lorraine L Lipscombe134 and Douglas G Manuel1256

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

2 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, 155 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

3 Women's College Hospital, 76 Grenville Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

4 Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

5 Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, 725 Parkdale Avenue, Ottawa Ontario, Canada

6 Statistics Canada, R.H. Coats Building 24 A, 100 Tunney's Pasture, Ottawa, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:506  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-506

Published: 20 August 2010



Little is known about the efficiency and effectiveness of the current level of diabetes screening activity in Ontario where there is universal access to health services. Our study aims were to: (i) determine how often Ontarians are screened for diabetes; (ii) estimate screening efficiency based on the number needed to screen (NNS) to diagnosis one diabetes case; (iii) examine the population effectiveness of screening as estimated by the number of undiagnosed diabetes cases.


Ontario respondents of the Canadian Community Health Survey who agreed to have their responses linked to health care data (n = 37,400) provided the cohort. The five-year probabilities of glucose testing and diabetes diagnoses were estimated using a Cox Proportional Hazards Model. We defined NNS as the ratio of diabetes tests to number of diabetes diagnoses over the study period. We estimated the number of undiagnosed diabetes by dividing the number not tested at the end of study period by the NNS.


80% of women and 66% of men had a blood glucose test within 5 years. The efficiency of screening was estimated by a NNS of 14 among men and 22 among women. 127,100 cases of undiagnosed diabetes were estimated, representing 1.4% of the Ontario adult population. Increasing age, hypertension, immigrant and non-white ethnicity, and number of general practitioner visits were associated with an increased likelihood of having a glucose test (LR χ2 p < 0.001). Low income men were less likely to be tested.


Diabetes screening was high in this population-based cohort of Ontarians. Screening efficiency varied considerably in the population. Undiagnosed diabetes continues to be prevalent and remains concentrated in the highest risk groups for diabetes, especially among men.