Vision benefits can lead to early detection of diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic Hero Image

The prevalence and impact of diabetes on your company and workforce might distress you. In addition to several life-threatening complications, your employees who are diabetic are at risk for eye diseases, including glaucoma, cataracts, and the sometimes blinding condition discussed here — diabetic retinopathy. 

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss and preventable blindness in working-age adults (20-65 years) worldwide.Approximately 1 in 3 people living with diabetes has some degree of diabetic retinopathy, and 1 in 10 will develop a vision-threatening form of the disease.2 From 2010 to 2050, the number of Americans with the condition is expected to nearly double, from 7.7 million to 14.6 million.3 Studies also reveal that medical costs for diabetics were "significantly higher for those with diabetic retinopathy than those without the disease."4

Fortunately, your vision benefits can help ensure early detection of the condition in your employees which can ultimately lower the risk of vision loss. 

Understanding diabetic retinopathy

Developed in people with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy occurs when too much blood sugar (glucose) damages the blood vessels in the retina — the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The risk increases the longer one has diabetes — type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.5

According to the American Optometric Association, the early stage of diabetic retinopathy does not have visual symptoms.Indications the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage, however, do exist.7 These include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Black spots or floaters in your vision
  • Flashing lights
  • Difficulty seeing well at night
  • Difficulty reading or seeing detailed work
  • Distorted visual sharpness

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Comprehensive eye exams help detect diabetes signs  

The careful management of diabetes — keeping blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control — can reduce the chances of developing diabetic retinopathy.8 And while advances in technology have improved the evaluation, treatment and visual outcomes of patients with the condition,9 like many other chronic and vision-related diseases, early detection is a key to treating it and controlling or avoiding severe complications.10 As reported by the National Eye Institute, early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of vision loss for diabetics by 95%.11

For employers who offer a well-used vision plan, early detection is low-hanging fruit. Not only is an eye exam an easy, non-invasive way to determine early signs of diabetes, it can detect signs of diabetic retinopathy before it threatens employees’ vision and can help monitor employees who are diagnosed with it. 

It starts with a dilated eye exam. After dilating the pupils, the doctor uses a lighted instrument called an ophthalmoscope to see inside of the eye and examine changes in the retinal tissue.12 A dye may be used to reveal leaky blood vessels. Subsequent tests, such as fluorescein angiography and optical coherence tomography (OCT), are used to track ongoing changes and the severity of the diabetic retinopathy.13

EyeMed's Diabetic Eye Care benefit

EyeMed offers a Diabetic Eye Care benefit ­— an enhancement which covers additional follow-up services for eligible members who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It can help bring down the cost of healthcare by encouraging high-risk employees to take advantage of timely eye services and testing that can detect warning signs of advancing retinopathy (and other health conditions) — before they require more costly care.

Specifically, the EyeMed Diabetic Eye Care benefit offers:

  • Timely care reminders
  • An office visit and diagnostic testing once every 6 months for early detection of ocular changes and treatment that can help prevent vision loss
  • Diagnostic tests, such as gonioscopy, extended ophthalmoscopy, fundus photography examination and scanning laser (offered at the provider's discretion) to detect vision complications from diabetes
Communicating vision benefits’ health impact to employees

Vision benefits can only be valuable if employees know why they matter to their health and their wallet, and how to use them. That’s why proactive communication is so important.

Vision carriers should make it easy for employers to communicate with employees across various touchpoints — including online, on-site at benefit fairs and in the mail — throughout the year to reinforce the advantages of using their vision benefits. Just one of the many communication touchpoints EyeMed offers is the eye exam reminder we mail to members who are at-risk for several health conditions, including diabetes.

These at-risk reminders are successful in encouraging patients to get their annual eye exam, which can also help health plans to improve their diabetic retinal exam component of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid HEDIS score.

To learn more about our Diabetic Eye Care Benefit and how vision supports your health plan, contact your EyeMed rep. 


1 "Under the Lens: Diabetic Retinopathy, The Lancet: Diabetes & Endocrinology, October 7, 2020.

2 "Under the Lens: Diabetic Retinopathy, The Lancet: Diabetes & Endocrinology, October 7, 2020.

3 "Diabetic Retinopathy Data and Statistics," National Eye Institute, November 2020.

4 "How to Curb the High Costs of Diabetic Eye Disease," by Elizabeth Klunk, MedCity News, January 17, 2020.

5 "Diabetic Retinopathy," National Eye Institute, August 3, 2019.

6 "Diabetic Retinopathy," American Optometric Association, Accessed May 3, 2021.

7 "Retinopathy," Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, April 2020.

8 "Diabetic Retinopathy," National Eye Institute, August 3, 2019.

9 "Evaluation and Care of Patients With Diabetic Retinopathy," by Lee M. Jampol, M.D., Adam R. Glassman, M.S. and Jennifer Sun, M.D., M.P.H., New England Journal of Medicine, April 23, 2020.

10 "Diabetes and the Eye," International Diabetes Federation, July 1, 2020.

11 "Diabetic Eye Disease Resources," National Eye Institute, February 20, 2020.

12 "Retinopathy," Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, April 2020.

13 "How Doctors Diagnose Diabetic Retinopathy," by Elizabeth Hanes, RN, Healthgrades, June 12, 2020.