Eyecare: perceptions, provision and potential

By Jim Lythgow, director of strategic alliances at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare.

Eyecare may often still be seen as being associated with something required by people who wear glasses to read or to drive. However in practice, eyecare is about a great deal more. A simple eye examination can not only test a person’s vision, but can also detect conditions of the eye, like glaucoma and cataracts. It may surprise some to learn that, furthermore, an eye examination may help with the detection and monitoring of numerous illnesses, not just of the eye but also relating to the whole body, including diabetes, high blood pressure, risk of stroke, and more.

This means that while an eye examination is of course essential in ensuring people can see adequately, it can also be an important factor in much wider health and wellbeing.

Eyecare for wider health

Employers in companies of all sizes have, in recent years, come to understand the importance of health and wellbeing on productivity and profits. Implementing comprehensive healthcare cover and wellbeing programmes may not, however, be viable for all, whether in terms of cost or administration time. For SMEs in particular, benefits of such kind may seem far from reach. If, however, something as simple and cost effective as eyecare can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing, this may provide a solution. Considering the effects such conditions as diabetes and stroke can have on a person’s ability to work, corporate eyecare may have a much bigger impact in the workplace than some people may have thought.

Research

To find out employers’ understanding of the full benefits of eyecare, their attitudes towards it and thoughts on its costs and benefits, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare recently surveyed 125 heads of companies [1]. The research then drilled down into the views of SME employers in particular.

Eye-related conditions

Many respondents believed their staff suffer from illnesses that are either directly, or could be, related to optical issues. These include: headaches (35%), migraines (26%), eyestrain (25%), dry eyes (25%) medical visual conditions like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and blurred vision (10%). All of these can effect an employees’ productivity and all can also be detected and quite possibly treated, through eyecare.

Worth of eyecare

Not only would it appear that many employees may be suffering from eye-related conditions, it also seems that their employers can see the worth of eyecare: a third (33%) stated that they believe DSE eyecare (for those classed as ‘screen-users’ under health and safety display screen equipment regulations) is worth over £75. Over two-thirds (68%) see DSE eyecare as worth over £50. In fact, DSE eyecare, providing a full eye examination and glasses, if required solely for DSE use, is actually available for just £17. This would suggest that employers place extremely high value on eyecare, relatively speaking, thinking it has a great deal of worth.

Yet, take-up rates are poor. Only 15% of employers surveyed believed they had a take-up rate of over 75%. So why are employers and employees not making the most of their eyecare?

For a start, employers may not be well informed about the wider benefits of eyecare. In the research, just 44% of employers knew that a full eye examination can detect and monitor diabetes. Again, just 44% of employers knew that it can detect and monitor high blood pressure and just 37% of employers knew that a full eye examination can detect and monitor various heart conditions.

Financial implications

As is so often the case, the financial implications may also be a contributing factor. The survey looked into how much employers were actually paying for their eyecare. Having already asked about how much worth employers attached to eyecare, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare was keen to understand how this related to how much employers were actually paying.

Providing a DSE eyecare voucher for less than £20, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare was surprised to discover that just 17% of employers were paying this rate. By far the majority (62%) were paying over £20 for DSE eyecare. Some 45% were paying over £50, and nearly a quarter (24%), somewhat incredibly, were paying more than £75 for DSE eyecare. It is actually available for just £17.

Communication

Despite employers valuing eyecare and believing it is worthwhile, they are still failing to communicate its benefits with their employees. This may possibly be linked to the vast overspend many would seem to be making for basic eyecare. If an employer is paying over £75 for DSE eyecare, they may well be less likely to encourage as many employees as possible to make use of the benefit. Indeed, just 5% of employees surveyed said they hold Employee Benefits days. Just 4% hold face-to-face meetings with the eyecare supplier and 15% do not have an eyecare policy to communicate. Yet, 83% of employers believe their employees would value eyecare as ‘worthwhile’.

SMEs Vs larger companies

It may be of use here to look at the difference between the attitudes of SMEs and larger companies. The research shows that over half (53%) of larger companies are meeting the Health and Safety regulations in providing DSE eyecare for all screen users [2]. This compares to just 35% of SMEs. [Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) regulations state that all workers who regularly use DSE as a significant part of their normal work must be provided with company-funded eyecare by their employer, if the worker requests it.]

As further evidence of the difference, just 4% of larger companies surveyed said they did not provide DSE eyecare for any employees, compared to nearly a quarter (24%) of SMEs, who stated they provide no DSE eyecare.

It may be the perceived costs that cause reticence in providing DSE eyecare. We have seen already that employers are often paying over the odds for eyecare. The overpayments may be due in part to the administration method selected. Just 32% of larger companies still allow their employees to visit the optician of their choosing and reimburse the cost via expenses, potentially incurring far greater costs due to the wide variety of rates charged by different opticians. This compares to half of SMEs (50%).

Administration

Administering eyecare through a voucher scheme can put the employer in better control of the costs and ensures the same level of care is received by all. This is often the most cost- and time-effective option and ensures there are no surprise expense claims for the employer to absorb. This is recognised by the 24% of SME employers who already benefit from utilising voucher eyecare schemes.

Where SMEs do seem to do particularly well in comparison to the larger companies is in securing better deals for their eyecare. Just 6% of larger companies are paying the market rate of less than £20 for their DSE eyecare. This compares to nearly a quarter (24%) of SME employers.

Clear message

What appears to be holding companies of all sizes back from offering this important provision, is a lack of understanding of the worth, cost and potential positive impact. By making the time to do a little investigation into the options available, an employer may save themselves a great deal in employee absence, sick pay, and over-payment of benefits, whilst gaining in employee appreciation and wellbeing.

The message here should be clear. Eyecare is not only often an obligatory provision, it is also a hugely beneficial one, which can have a positive impact on the wider health of employees. Additionally, eyecare need not be expensive or time consuming. It is a benefit that may be appreciated by employers and employees alike, in small and large businesses alike.

The research was conducted on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare, by E-Media in June 2015. Using its online survey system, eMedia collated the responses of 125 heads of UK companies, regarding their approach to eyecare for all employees. These figures were then split between SMEs (those employing less than 250 people) and larger companies (those employing more than 250 people).
Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002.