This article was originally published in INVISION.
We all know preventive health screenings and regular well-check visits are essential for catching early signs of illness and helping patients maintain good overall health. However, the social determinants of health that lower-income patients, such as Medicaid beneficiaries, face often make it difficult for them to attend regular primary care visits.
For Medicaid beneficiaries and other patients who struggle to get screenings or attend regular appointments, optometrists are in a unique position to provide the first line of preventive care. For one, standard eye exams are very important for vision health. The CDC reports that more than 60 million adults in the U.S. are at high risk for vision loss. Yet of that population, only 50% have seen an eye doctor in the past year.
Consistent eyecare can have a profound impact on Medicaid members’ overall health, as many systemic diseases can be identified through changes in eye health. But an engaged Medicaid population creates a ripple of positive effects that extend beyond the individual patient. By engaging their Medicaid patient populations, optometrists become better stewards of community health. The value they bring to their community is enormous: In making early treatment of disease possible, they allow health systems to allocate resources appropriately and deliver high-quality services at lower costs.
Below are three ways optometrists can make the most of their opportunity to improve Medicaid patients’ healthcare outcomes.
1. Educate patients about the significance of preventive care measures.
When patients visit your office for vision care, encourage them to continue scheduling routine health exams. Explain the importance of preventive measures for detecting potential vision problems, as well as other health challenges such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Many patients don’t attend regular preventive appointments because they’re not showing any symptoms. If they learn that many eye problems don’t have early symptoms but can lead to more severe consequences, they may be more likely to change their approach to eye health and, hopefully, healthcare in general.
2. Carefully consider common social determinants of health for Medicaid patients.
As you explain the benefits of preventive care to Medicaid beneficiaries, remember to take social determinants of health into account. Factors such as low health literacy and transportation barriers frequently play an important role in higher risks and poorer health outcomes — and might make it more difficult for them to access regular care.
Medicaid vision providers have the opportunity to help patients overcome some of these barriers by providing in-office education and clear, direct explanations and directions. For example, any written health information you give patients should be available in multiple languages and easy for patients to comprehend and digest.
3. Be a role model for staff by actively learning how to better engage Medicaid individuals and families.
If you want to take a more proactive role in Medicaid patients’ healthcare, it is important to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to establish effective patient-provider relationships.
Lead by doing, and attend webinars and workshops to gather and disseminate the latest evidence-based practices for Medicaid patient engagement. Share information with your staff members and encourage them to join you as you explore and establish partnerships with community organizations, foundations, or clinics to find local educational resources.
Medicaid patients who don’t engage as often with primary care physicians for screenings and checkups have much to gain from proactive optometry visits. By learning and practicing Medicaid patient engagement strategies, understanding and addressing barriers to care, and looking deeper into patients’ whole health and preventive care, optometrists can be an important first line of defense for this underserved population.
Jill Scullion, OD, MBA is a divisional Vice President of Health Care Services for Envolve Health. Her responsibilities include oversight of clinical policy, member health, utilization management, and quality assurance accreditations.