EYECARE Consumer Interest in Vision Benefits Is Rising, Led by Virtual Eyecare Options, Versant Study Finds By Staff Tuesday, June 14, 2022 12:27 AM BALTIMORE—Consumer opinions of the value of vision care as part of whole-body health are rising, according to the results of Versant Health’s newly released third annual Vision Wellness Study. The study also found that more people agree that the ability to identify both eye diseases and chronic health conditions are highly valuable services offered by eye doctors. Additionally, Versant found that the use of virtual eyecare options—including telemedicine, tech-enabled communication, and online eyewear shopping—have both increased year-over year and influence consumer's insurance benefits decisions.The Vision Wellness Study surveyed consumers on their evolving perceptions of eyecare over the past two years of living with a global pandemic, including the importance they place on eyecare services, their beliefs about the connections between eye health and overall health, and the factors that influence current insurance benefit decisions. Of those survey respondents who received an eye exam during the past two years, 70 percent say the ability to identify eye diseases is high-value service offered by eye doctors, up from 65 percent last year. To add, 61 percent say the ability to identify other serious diseases is a high-value service offered by eyecare providers, slightly up from 59 percent last year. This points to a gradual increase in the importance consumers place on their eyecare visits, which we may continue to see in coming years, as more people consider the care resources that support their whole-body health. Virtual eyecare options are having a greater influence on how—and the likelihood that—people seek eye care moving forward. In fact, more than one-third (37 percent) of respondents believe that telemedicine is a very important health care topic in general. Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of respondents say having access to virtual visits and telemedicine would make them more likely to make an eye doctor appointment, and nearly one third (31 percent) say having access to virtual visits and telemedicine would make them more likely to purchase vision insurance, a 10 percent increase over last year. "The pandemic has created an increased desire for telemedicine that is here to stay, even in the eye health space," said Dr. Mark Ruchman, chief medical officer at Versant Health. "The 'new normal' for insurers and managed care organizations that are engaging members and patients in their whole-body health includes innovating the way they access and experience tech-enabled vision care services." Beyond telemedicine, consumers' opinions of eyecare and insurance is impacted by virtual access to communication with doctors. More than one third (39 percent) of respondents who have received an eye exam in the past two years say that communicating virtually/remotely with their eye doctor has a high impact on them seeing them more often, compared to 31 percent who said the same last year. Additionally, one third (34 percent) say that being able to buy eyewear online has a high impact on them seeing an eye doctor more often, compared to 27 percent who said the same last year. Of those respondents who do not have vision insurance, half (50 percent) think that being able to use insurance to purchase eyewear online would make them more likely to purchase vision insurance, up from 41 percent last year. Costs of care and lack of insurance coverage often present as the major barriers to vision care for lower income households (i.e., earning less than $35,000 per year). More than a quarter (28 percent) of lower-income households say they don't have vision insurance that covers their eyecare costs, compared to 15 percent of middle-income households (those earning between $35,000 and $75,000 annually) and 9 percent of higher-income households (those earning more than $75,000 annually) that say the same. More than one third (35 percent) of lower income households say cost and affordability is the reason they don't see an eye doctor as often as they'd like, compared 23 percent of middle income and 16 percent of higher income households. Potentially resulting from concerns regarding care costs, lower income households express interest in cost containment measures they can take at home and affordable access to care. The majority (87 percent) of lower income households say getting advice on nutrition for better eye health would make them more likely to make an eye doctor appointment, compared to 66 percent of higher income households that agree. To add, 53 percent of lower income households say members of their household would see an eye doctor more often if virtual communication for advice and information and appointment scheduling were options, compared to 34 percent of higher income households. "Our health outcomes are directly related to our socioeconomic status," said Liz Klunk, RN, BSN, CCM-R, head of Medical Management Strategy and Development at Versant Health, Inc. "We truly believe that health plans and managed vision care partners can play a significant role in addressing issues of social determinants through advanced member outreach program design that improves access to care in the face of societal inequities. The proof is in member outcomes, and we've seen it work."