When patients with vision loss are hospitalized for common illnesses, they are often not identified as requiring any special attention. A recent study found that Medicare beneficiaries and those with commercial health insurance with vision loss had considerably greater health care resource use and costs both during and immediately after hospitalization.

Researchers used databases from Medicare and a hospital system to analyze 6,165 patients with vision loss who were hospitalized for common medical conditions as well as the same number of individuals without vision loss. Of those with vision loss, 55.2% had partial vision loss and 44.8% had severe vision loss.

Compared with patients without vision loss, Medicare beneficiaries with severe vision loss had longer mean lengths of stay (6.48 vs. 5.26 days), higher readmission rates (23.1% vs. 18.7%) and higher hospitalization and 90-day post-discharge costs ($64,711 vs. $61,060). The study found similar results for those with commercial health insurance. After analyzing the data further, the researchers estimate more than $500 million in additional costs, annually, were spent.

Researchers hope the results of their study encourages policymakers to identify ways to provide incentives to hospitals and health care systems to work with researchers, patients and their caregivers as well as with staff at such facilities to identify strategies to enhance the care of older adults with vision or other sensory loss. Hospital staff should consider comorbidities such as vision loss, hearing loss and cognitive impairment at the time of hospital admission, throughout the hospitalization and during the discharge-planning process.

Morse AR, Seiple W, Talwar N, et al. Association of vision loss with hospital use and costs among older adults. JAMA Ophthalmol. April 04, 2019. [Epub ahead of print].