Eye Exams Can Identify Chronic Conditions, UnitedHealthcare Study Determines

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MINNETONKA, Minn.—Comprehensive eye exams can help identify some chronic conditions and help with early diagnosis so patients can start treatment sooner and better manage their disease, according to a new study by UnitedHealthcare.  With more than 133 million people nationwide with at least one chronic condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study has broad implications.

The study, “Impact of Eye Exams in Identifying Chronic Conditions,”  demonstrates how eyecare professionals (ECPs) can play a key role in identifying people with various diseases and work with primary care physicians to deliver patient-centered care.

Based on claims data during 2011 and 2012 for UnitedHealthcare plan participants with both medical and vision benefits, the study concluded that ECPs identified nearly 6 percent of the chronic conditions diagnosed among the study population. For certain diseases such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes, ECPs identified 15 percent of study participants diagnosed with those chronic conditions. Other common conditions identified by ECPs were high cholesterol, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and Graves disease.

ECPs were credited with identification if plan participants with chronic conditions were reported during a comprehensive eye exam or identified by another health care professional within 60 days following the eye exam, which would indicate that it was likely that the patient had been referred to address a condition.

"The eyes are the window into a person's overall health, and eye doctors play a critical role in identifying and managing chronic conditions and re-engaging them into care," said Linda Chous, OD, chief eyecare officer, UnitedHealthcare Vision. "When eyecare professionals share information about diseases with patients and other care providers, it can lead to better information, better decisions and better health outcomes."

The study highlights the importance of including a comprehensive eye exam in a health benefit package, according to UnitedHealthcare, especially because plan participants often visit their ECPs more often than their primary care physicians.

This follows another study UnitedHealthcare released last year on “Integrating Eye Care with Disease Management: It’s Not Just About Diabetes Anymore,” as reported by VMail June 17, 2013.