There is strong evidence that diabetes is underdiagnosed in the US: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 25% of diabetic patients are unaware of their condition. To encourage timely diagnosis of at-risk patients, we develop screening guidelines stratified by body mass index (BMI), age, and prior test history by using a Partially Observed Markov Decision Process (POMDP) framework to provide more personalized screening frequency recommendations. We identify structural results that prove the existence of threshold solutions in our problem and allow us to determine the relative timing and frequency of screening given different risk profiles. We then use nationally representative empirical data to identify a policy that provides the optimal action (screen or wait) every six months from age 45 to 90. We find that the current screening guidelines are suboptimal, and the recommended diabetes screening policy should be stratified by age and by finer BMI thresholds than in the status quo. We identify age ranges and BMI categories for which relatively less or more screening is needed compared to the existing guidelines to help physicians target patients most at risk. Compared to the status quo, we estimate that an optimal screening policy would generate higher net monetary benefits by $3,200-$3,570 and save $120-$1,290 in health expenditures per individual in the US above age 45.
The full study is available in Health Care Management Science.