There comes a point in many employees’ lives where the regular, life-long routine of eye examinations may not seem all that important anymore – perhaps they’ve had corrective lasik surgery, or they feel perfectly content with a reasonably good prescription for glasses or contact lenses.

It’s those exact folks that researchers say could probably benefit the most from more regular eye checkups, not only for their visual acuity, but also because regular eye exams also offer a quick overview of symptoms of a wide range of physical disorders, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

A new study conducted by human capital risk management firm HCMS Group suggests that employers who offer vision benefits to their employees might be able to save as much as $5.8 billion in cost savings over a four year period, partly due to the preventative screening opportunities afforded by low-cost eye check-ups.

Jim McGrann, president of VSP Vision Care, the vision company whose data was analyzed in the study, said that the survey echoes the point he and his competitors have been trying to make to HR decision-makers over the years.

“When we speak to HR directors who aren’t aware of the eye/health connection, they usually say, ‘well, you’re just vision’ … but exams can be such a useful tool for the early detection of very serious diseases,” McGrann said. “And given that employees are two to three times more likely to use their vision benefits than to go get an annual physical exam, it really opens their eyes. Even folks with surgically corrected eyes should go in every year to do a comprehensive test, as it’s still the only non-invasive way to look at blood vessels.”

Vision care’s relatively low cost is also a big part of the HCMS survey, especially as other more traditional health care costs are expected to steadily increase, up 6.5% in 2014 alone. By adopting preventative benefits including vision care, HCMS suggests that employers could save as much as $3,125 per employee over a four-year period. As an investment model, the numbers are more direct: for every dollar invested in an eye exam, employers will get a $1.45 return because of lower overall health care costs, improved productivity and lower turnover.

What’s more, those employees who do get lucky and have a chronic condition uncovered thanks to an eye exam typically required less medication to manage their condition and were 26.5% less likely to require emergency room visits or hospital care than patients whose conditions were revealed by other health care diagnostic means.

VSP has been on a tear for the last half year as the company has found itself (like other vision insurers and service providers) included as a relatively easy to access health care add-on for many plans required to have expanded coverage for members as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“We signed up with about 90 health plans in 2013 alone, where we’ve been used to eight to 10 a year in the past,” he notes. “We feel pretty good, but enrollment got much slower at the end of 2013.”

VSP’s McGrann said he and other vision care providers have continued to push the value of their services not only to the HR community but to employee participants as well, reaching out on social media and through regular e-newsletters. And employees with diabetes get extra attention through a diabetic eye reminder system, with automatic notifications suggesting they seek regular annual screenings.

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