Integrating Eyecare and Medical Benefits Improves Disease Management, Reports UnitedHealthcare White Paper

MINNETONKA, Minn.— UnitedHealthcare  has released a white paper explaining how integrating eyecare with medical benefits can help improve the management of many diseases, leading to better health outcomes and lower costs. The white paper, “ Integrating Eye Care with Disease Management: It’s Not Just About Diabetes Anymore,” demonstrates how eyecare professionals (ECPs) can play a key role in identifying people with various diseases and then partner with primary care physicians to deliver holistic, patient-centered care. Based on an extensive analysis of prevalence, detectability and impact, the paper concluded that ECPs can help detect and monitor many chronic conditions, including several unexpected ones. The white paper’s authors are Linda Chous, OD, chief eyecare officer, UnitedHealthcare Vision, and Kim Christopher, vice president of vision strategic solutions, UnitedHealthcare Vision.

Besides diabetes, ECPs can help detect and monitor multiple sclerosis, tumors, Crohn’s disease and sickle cell anemia. For some conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, the value of eyecare is in monitoring the disease. For others, such as Crohn’s disease, the impact is greatest when a comprehensive eye exam helps providers identify the condition earlier and track ocular complications caused by medications used during treatment. ECPs can also help monitor disease severity and progression for many conditions, including high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Graves disease, AIDS and lupus.

UnitedHealthcare’s Bridge2Health program provides integrated vision and medical benefits that support patients and health care professionals with information, decisions and outcomes. ECPs are encouraged to code claims with chronic condition categories. Those diagnoses are automatically referred to disease management programs for follow-up based on the patient’s needs. ECPs are notified of patients with at-risk conditions during the exam authorization process, with a recommendation to include a dilated fundus exam as part of the comprehensive eye examination. Patients with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, hypertension, hypertensive retinopathy, vascular disease or high cholesterol are 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 are supported via specially designed forms available online to ECPs.

A UnitedHealthcare spokesperson told VMail, “We started offering Bridge2Health several years ago, and today we have more than 2,000 companies enrolled in the program.” The spokesperson cited a number of benefits already realized by the program, including: a reduction in the duration of disability claims by more than 13 percent, helping employees to return to work more quickly following a leave; improved exam adherence to 50 percent for people with diabetes and other chronic conditions that require annual eye exams, compared to 3 percent for postcard programs; and more than 50 percent improvement in dental engagement for those with chronic medical conditions, generating up to $2,000 in annual medical savings per individual. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 40 million people in health benefits and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company.