Study: Comprehensive Eye Exams Can Help Re-engage Patients Into Care for Certain Chronic Conditions, With the Potential to Help Improve Health and Reduce Costs

May 19, 2015
  • UnitedHealthcare study shows that 57 percent of patients with chronic conditions who receive a comprehensive eye exam became re-engaged with a primary care physician or specialist in managing their ongoing illness
  • Employers that adopt integrated eye health and medical benefits, along with health and wellness programs, may improve employee well-being and reduce medical costs

Comprehensive eye exams can help re-engage patients into care for certain chronic conditions, with eye care professionals encouraging people to seek follow-up treatments from primary care physicians and specialists, according to a new study by UnitedHealthcare.

Eye Exam Impacts on Re-engagement for Chronic Conditions demonstrates for the first time how eye care professionals can play a key role in helping re-engage patients with chronic conditions into care. This may help enable cost savings and prevention of disease progression and complications. Study results showed that 33 percent of previously unengaged patients, defined as lacking medical care for any chronic conditions over the previous 18 months, were re-engaged into care with a primary care physician or specialist within 60 days following an eye exam. Another 24 percent of patients were re-engaged after 60 days following an eye exam.

The study followed more than 2,300 UnitedHealthcare plan participants enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans to determine whether patients lacking care for chronic conditions followed up for treatment  with a primary care physician or specialist after an eye exam. The study examined re-engagement rates for people with seven chronic conditions: Crohn’s disease, diabetes, Graves’ disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. The results are important considering many people visit their eye care doctor more frequently than their primary care provider.

More than 117 million people nationwide, or nearly one of every two adults, suffer from at least one chronic condition, while one quarter of adults have two or more conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 29 million people have diabetes; 73.5 million have high LDL cholesterol; and 70 million have hypertension, according to the CDC.

“This study demonstrates the important role comprehensive eye exams play in re-engaging patients into care, especially for chronic conditions,” said Linda Chous, O.D., chief eye care officer for UnitedHealthcare Vision. “When patients are reconnected into care, the prevention of disease progression and complications can be realized, which may contribute to improved patient health and reduced costs.”    

The new report builds on the findings of a previous UnitedHealthcare study, “Impact of Eye Exams in Identifying Chronic Conditions,” published in 2014. That study demonstrated how comprehensive eye exams can help eye-care doctors identify some chronic conditions – such as high cholesterol, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and Graves’ disease – helping with early diagnosis so people can obtain appropriate treatment sooner and take steps to better manage their disease.

“The eyes are the only place on the body to offer a noninvasive view of the blood vessels, which means a comprehensive eye exam can reveal important information about a patient’s overall health, as well as their vision,” Dr. Chous added.

Employers are increasingly recognizing the role eye health plays in overall health, adopting integrated vision and medical benefits programs such as UnitedHealthcare’s Bridge2Health®, which supports patients and health care professionals with information, decisions and outcomes. Bridge2Health does the following:

  • integrates medical and vision data to close gaps in care and identify opportunities for interventions, including monitoring of 23 chronic conditions;
  • identifies people with chronic conditions for eye care providers, and helps ensure that patients’ eyes be dilated during the exam to provide a better view of eye health and overall health;
  • contacts plan participants by phone with eye exam reminders for people with chronic conditions who have not had an exam; and
  • refers people with diabetes to disease management programs that may save more than $1,800 per patient per year, according to the 2014 UnitedHealthcare study.

More than 170 companies representing 5.3 million plan participants have already selected Bridge2Health’s integrated approach for vision benefits to help create healthier employees, lower health care costs and increase productivity. With wellness as a core value for many companies, programs such as UnitedHealthcare’s Bridge2Health provide employees with the most advanced programs and resources that encourage a healthier workforce.

Image of Five Reasons Bridge2Health Infographic sm

About UnitedHealthcare
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers, military service members, retirees and their families, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 850,000 physicians and care professionals, and 6,000 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. UnitedHealthcare is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company. For more information, visit UnitedHealthcare at or follow @myUHC on Twitter.

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