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Workplace Eye Wellness Month: How to improve vision on the job

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Dr. Marilyn Gordon, medical director for UnitedHealthcare covering New Jersey.
Dr. Marilyn Gordon, medical director for UnitedHealthcare covering New Jersey. - ()

Businesses looking to reduce health care costs might consider eliminating ancillary benefits such as vision, dental or disability insurance. But there are compelling reasons why employers should continue to offer or add these benefits, either paid for partly by the employer or as voluntary benefits with premiums paid by employees.

March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month, a reminder for employers and employees about the importance of eye health. With growing evidence of a link between eye health and overall health, and to an array of chronic medical conditions, implementing voluntary vision benefits can prove valuable to both employers and employees. Surveys also show that voluntary benefits can help attract and retain employees while improving morale, according to a 2014 report from LIMRA International.

Here are some ways to help improve vision at the workplace, encourage enhanced employee health and more effectively manage health care costs:

Stop the strain: The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has made employees more productive and connected; but it has also had an unintended side effect of digital eye strain that can result in an array of health issues. Digital eye strain is defined by The Vision Council 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, people should keep computer screens about 30 inches away from their eyes and rest their eyes every 15 minutes, all of which reduces dry eye and helps maintain eye health.

Regular exams: The eyes are a window to overall health, with regular eye exams playing 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 percent of the people diagnosed with those chronic conditions, according to a study by UnitedHealthcare. For other conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, the value of eye care is in monitoring the disease.

Integrate benefits: 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 and proactive clinical interventions. These programs offer several advantages by combining medical and vision coverage, such as automatic referrals for disease management programs and telephone reminders about annual exams for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension or vascular disease.

Employers are in a unique position to help employees take charge of their eye health and, in the process, improve their overall health. For more information about employee eye health, click here.

Dr. Marilyn Gordon is medical director for UnitedHealthcare covering New Jersey. She is responsible for managing the clinical quality associated with all UnitedHealthcare market-related activities associated with its commercial and Medicare lines of business.

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