A study revealed that employers who offer their employees stand-alone vision benefits experienced $5.8 billion in cost savings over four years due to lower healthcare costs, higher productivity, and improved retention. According to the study, which drew from 120,000 enrolled members from six large commercial clients of HCMS and VSP Vision Care, individuals who receive an annual comprehensive eye exam are more likely to enter the healthcare system earlier for treatment of serious health conditions, thereby significantly reducing their long-term cost of care.
Since comprehensive eye exams provide the only possible non-invasive view of blood vessels and the optic nerve, eye doctors can detect early signs of chronic diseases before any other healthcare provider and without drawing blood specifically to test for chronic conditions. Specifically, the study found that eye doctors were the first to identify signs of diabetes 34% of the time, high blood pressure 39% of the time, and high cholesterol 62% of the time in patients.
The study also quantifies the savings from early detection through eye examinations. Specifically, it reported that for every dollar invested on a comprehensive eye exam, employers received a $1.45 return on investment. The study also found that those who had a chronic condition identified through an eye exam needed less medication to manage their condition and were 27% less likely to have emergency room visits and hospital admissions versus patients who had diseases detected by another healthcare provider.
Based on the numbers reported in the study, there is arguably a strong case to have eye exams replace the function of biometric screenings. Also, there is an ancillary benefit of improved vision, which intuitively should be connected with productivity. Lastly, with eight out of 10 adults needing some type of vision correction, perhaps less incentives will be needed to get employees to get an annual vision exam than an annual medical physical. Even if the results are limited relative to a biometric screening, the ancillary benefits and lower costs may make annual eye examinations a better alternative to biometric screenings.
Note: It is worth pointing out that the study was sponsored by VSP Vision Care, a national vendor that offers vision insurance who clearly has a vested interested in the broad adoption of vision insurance and eye examinations. Nevertheless, the study, coupled with numerous studies that question the efficacy of biometric screenings, should make wellness professionals consider alternatives to capturing the risk data that they often seek from screenings.