March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month, a reminder for employers and employees that good eye health is linked to good overall health.
While the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has made employees more productive and connected, it has also had an unintended side-effect: digital eye strain that can result in an array of health problems.
Digital eye strain is “defined as physical discomfort felt after prolonged exposure to digital screens and can result in symptoms such as dry and irritated eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, neck and back pain and headaches.” Nearly nine in 10 adults spend more than two hours each day using a digital device, according to The Vision Council.
To help prevent digital eye strain, employees should keep computer screens about 30 inches away from their eyes; rest their eyes every 15 minutes; and blink frequently, which reduces dry eye and helps maintain eye health.
The eyes are also a window to overall health. Regular eye exams play an important role in identifying and managing serious, chronic conditions, including diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and some tumors.
How? Our eyes contain blood vessels, nerves and other structures that may be affected by chronic illness, and signs of these conditions can be identified by eye health professionals during routine exams, enabling for earlier diagnosis and treatment.
For some diseases, including multiple sclerosis and diabetes, eye care professionals can identify 15% of the people diagnosed with those chronic conditions, according to a 2014 study by UnitedHealthcare. For other conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, the value of eye care is in monitoring the disease. Nearly 60% of patients with chronic conditions who received comprehensive eye exams became re-engaged with a primary care physician or specialist in managing their ongoing illness, according to a 2015 study by UnitedHealthcare.
To help improve eye health and overall care, some employers are embracing an integrated approach to vision and medical benefits that support patients and health care professionals with information, decisions and outcomes. These programs can include a variety of features, such as:
· Eye care practitioners may be encouraged to code claims with chronic condition categories. Patients with those diagnoses may be automatically referred to disease management programs for follow-ups based on the patients’ needs.
· Eye care practitioners may be notified of patients with at-risk conditions during the exam authorization process, with a recommendation to include a dilated fundus exam. This exam uses mydriatic eye drops to dilate the pupil to gain a better view of the eye, as part of the comprehensive eye examination.
· Patients with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, hypertension, hypertensive retinopathy, vascular disease or high cholesterol may be notified with a phone call (which is much more effective than a postcard reminder) about the importance of their annual eye exam.
· For patients who may have chronic conditions, referrals to primary care providers or specialists can be supported by eye care practitioners via specially designed forms available online.
Employers are in a unique position to help employees take charge of their eye health and, in the process, improve their overall health.
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