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Importance of Annual Eye Checks

mivision | 30 May 2011
A recent study undertaken in the United States highlights the benefits of patients having annual eye exams to uncover chronic diseases.

Conducted by Human Capital Management Services Group (HCMS), a national human capital consulting firm, and commissioned by VSP Vision Care, the study found that eye care professionals detected signs of certain chronic conditions before any other health care provider recorded the condition - 65 per cent of the time for high cholesterol, 20 per cent of the time for diabetes, and 30 per cent of the time for hypertension.

When the study was applied to VSP's entire membership of 56 million, the following received early treatment for chronic diseases as a result of their eye exam:

  • 65 per cent of the 2.2 million members with high cholesterol (1.5 million), resulting in two-year savings of USD$1.7 billion
  • 20 per cent of 1.5 million members with diabetes (296,800), resulting in two-year savings of USD$827 million
  • 30 per cent of 2.2 million members with hypertension (667,800), resulting in two-year savings of USD$2 billion

"With the national healthcare system focused on prevention and early detection, annual eye exams play a critical role in detecting signs of chronic diseases even at the beginning stages as eye doctors have the only unobstructed, non-invasive view of blood vessels," said Susan Egbert, director of eye health management, VSP Vision Care.

HCMS matched medical condition data for over 200,000 members covered by VSP Vision Care, spanning two years to medical and pharmacy data obtained from the clients' medical and drug carriers. HCMS compared chronic patients who were first identified by VSP Vision Care against those who entered the health care system via traditional means.

The study concluded that eye care benefits saved VSP's 38,000 clients - for profits, not-for-profits and government organisations - USD$4.5 billion through the early detection of chronic diseases via an eye exam.

However, when it comes to diabetic patients with low risk of diabetic retinopathy, a separate study has found that biennial eye exams offered the same benefits as annual eye exams, but at lower costs.

The research, conducted by RTI International, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the University of Wisconsin, looked at the costs and visual health impacts of annual eye exams, biennial eye exams, telemedicine and self referral to care, following visual symptoms. Telemedicine uses digital retinal photography to enable screening in non-eye care settings, such as primary care. Images are transferred to a grading center for evaluation, and if necessary, referred to an eye care professional.

The study used a simulation model to assess cost-effective eye screenings for the approximately nine million Americans with diabetes but no or minimal damage to the retina from the visual complications of diabetic retinopathy.

"We found that biennial eye evaluations offered virtually the same benefits to low-risk patients as annual eye exams, but at lower costs," said David Rein, Ph.D., a senior research economist at RTI.

' The study concluded that eyecare benefits saved... US$4.5 billion through the early detection of chronic diseases via an eye exam '