By Liz Klunk
When it comes to health, wellness and care, the first part of 2020 has been almost entirely focused on the novel coronavirus and resulting COVID-19 illness—and for good reason, as the number of cases around the world skyrocketed and governments took precautionary measures to ensure their most at-risk populations stay safe.
The unexpected, immense impact and wide reach of the coronavirus pandemic is likely to spur drastic shifts in the already-evolving view of healthcare in the U.S. In an environment that is more heavily focusing on connected care, cost controls and patient outcomes, we’re likely to see an even larger emphasis on better integrating all aspects of care moving forward. While certain aspects of routine care—including eye exams—are put on hold during a pandemic to keep the population as safe and healthy as possible, the veil will eventually begin to lift. As signs start to point to a return to normal, the value of vision care services—which can provide early detection of diseases and chronic illnesses—will become clearer.
The value of vision care is, ultimately, why we conducted the inaugural Vision Wellness Study—to better understand Americans’ perceptions and opinions of eye care as it relates to their overall health and what may be missing from their views. From the frequency of eye exams, to knowledge of how it connects to health and care costs, we explored whether Americans are putting their vision health on autopilot and how it could be adversely impacting their wellness.
The good news is that 9 out of 10 respondents say either they or other household members have received an eye exam in the past two years. Still, many respondents aren’t making the connection between an eye exam and what it can tell them about their health, with 60% of respondents saying they seek only basic eye care services—like glasses—from eye doctors.
So, what does this mean for better integrating eye health with wellness?
- Connecting eye care to health: Despite prioritizing basic vision services, 84% of respondents say they would be more likely to schedule an eye exam based on their eye doctors’ ability to identify serious health issues. Yet, less than 40% of respondents have a high level of confidence in their eye doctors’ abilities to identify health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, Graves’ disease and other chronic illnesses. The fact is an eye exam is the most affordable, least invasive way of evaluating overall health, and eye care professionals can detect upwards of 30 different chronic conditions.
- Breaking down age barriers: With eye sight integral to independent living later in age, it comes as little surprise that older respondents recognize the importance of eye exams to their wellness—81% of respondents ages 60+ say they place high value on their eye doctors’ abilities to identify serious non-eye diseases, compared to just 68% of those ages 40-59 and 65% of those ages 40 and under. What is surprising is that children are not receiving as many eye exams as the adults in their households, despite how vital vision wellness is to learning success. Nearly half (42%) of respondents say the adults in their household have received care from any eye doctor in the past two years, compared to just 23% of respondents who say children under the age of 18 in their household have had the same experience.
- Understanding the reality of care costs: While every person’s care path is unique, the most critical healthcare cost topic is identifying ways to decrease overall costs for their family, reported by 61% of respondents as very important. To add, respondents’ top reasons for not visiting an eye doctor as often as they would like are cost/affordability (39%) and no vision insurance to cover eye care costs (27%). The reality is that for most people vision care with a health plan can cost as little as $177.40 per year—less than a daily cup of coffee at $1,095.00 per year—and for that price, it can reveal more about their health than they realize.
As we look to the future of care in the U.S. post-pandemic, the Vision Wellness Study points to a need for both patients and care industry players—including health plans—to include vision health as a critical spoke of population wellness, informing whole-body health, leading to early disease detection and helping to control chronic condition care costs. Managed care plays a crucial role in making this possible, with respondents saying they more often turn to health insurance providers for advice and information about their eye health, over trusted confidantes such as family members (40% compared to 33%, respectively). As we approach holidays such as Healthy Vision Month in May, take a moment to address vision wellness for a better informed, healthier population.
Elizabeth Klunk, RN, BSN, CCM-R, is the Senior Vice President of Medical Management at Versant Health, a managed vision care company focused on creating an integrated and seamless experience for health plans, members and eye care professionals across the total eye health value chain.