Eye Exams: A Powerful Tool for Overall Health
Have you heard this recently? “I haven’t come in for an eye exam because I don’t need new glasses.”
As eye doctors, we know that annual eye exams are as important for overall health as they are for vision correction. Now, a new study* is making it easier to explain the importance to patients and others in our communities.
The study found that those who receive an annual comprehensive eye exam are more likely to enter the healthcare system earlier for treatment of serious health conditions, significantly reducing their long-term cost of care.
One of the most exciting findings is that eye doctors often detect early signs of chronic diseases before any other healthcare provider. In fact, they were first to detect:
- diabetes 34% of the time,
- high blood pressure 39% of the time,
- high cholesterol 62% of the time.
I’ve experienced this in my own practice. A woman called about her husband who was in his forties and frightened that he was going blind, threatening a career that required driving long distances. During his eye exam, I discovered diabetic retinopathy and immediately referred him to his primary care physician and a retinal specialist. Without a timely eye exam, his vision AND his life could have been irreparably damaged.
It makes me proud to be an optometrist when I see how we’re helping patients live healthier, happier lives. Patients whose health condition was first detected by an optometrist needed less medication to manage their condition and were 26.7% less likely to have emergency room visits and hospital admissions versus patients who had diseases detected by another healthcare provider.
While I already knew how important eye exams are for overall health, I was surprised by the data showing the advantage for employers to encourage their employees to have annual eye exams: Employers studied experienced a 145% return on investment for every dollar spent on eye exam coverage because the study group incurred fewer health plan costs, fewer lost-time costs, and a lower job turnover rate.
That represents $5.8 billion in cost savings over four years when stand-alone vision benefits are offered!
This study can help us raise awareness that, during an eye exam, microscopic findings in the retinal vasculature can indicate hypertension, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol—conditions patients may not even know about yet. It’s especially powerful for patients paired with retinal imaging. Whether I’m showing a patient their own images or those from a library of diseases detected with a retinal exam, it helps make a very real, very dramatic connection.
As I see it, every day, we have the opportunity to improve and even save lives by helping keep our patients healthy and working with other doctors on behalf of our patients. I’m so proud of our profession! We need to take every opportunity with our patients and within our community to help everyone understand the role that eye care plays in leading a healthy, happy life.
In the next few weeks, watch for resources that we can use to have conversations with our patients and in our community.
*This study was conducted by HCMS Group, a human capital risk management firm that analyzes data to help employers reduce waste in health benefits and increase human capital. The study and comparison groups were drawn from a population of 120,000 enrolled employees and spouses of six large commercial clients of both HCMS Group and VSP Vision Care.