Online Eye Exams May Be Convenient, But Are They A Good Idea?

The Internet has made almost everything in our lives more convenient. No more stopping to call for directions or whipping out the phone book to get a phone number, it is a wonder that anyone made it through life without it. You can find and do just about everything from your home or work computer, so why is there so much controversy about being able to get a prescription for contact lens and eyeglasses via the internet?

No one enjoys making an appointment with eye doctors. It is not only time consuming; you typically have to make your appointment well ahead of time. However, with the rise of online ordering for prescription lenses at websites like, you can skip the hassle of scheduling an appointment and still get the eyewear you need. A new Chicago-based company is offering consumers a more efficient way to order their prescriptions online and have their eyeglasses and contacts show up on their front doorstep in less than 24 hours. Skip the frustrating process of picking up your glasses; this one-stop shop online has the potential for millions to be seeing better within 24 hours, literally.

So why is it causing so much concern in the medical field?

Steven Lee, the brains behind the new online prescription service, had an idea when, in private practice, one of his patients asked him a simple question “why can’t I just do this online”. Partnering up with Aaron Dallek, Steven Lee quickly went to work on revolutionizing the way that people typically get their eyewear prescriptions.

Now available to anyone from the age to 18 to 50 and across 38 states, the company uses tests administered online that are then overseen by a doctor before a prescription can be delivered. The name of the startup is called Opternative, simply because it is offering millions of patients an alternative to the status quo way of getting their eye exam and eye glasses yearly.

The tool that they use online is a mixture between a computer and a smartphone. A digital eye chart, as it is described, alongside a smartphone, which is used as a remote control, creates a virtual eye exam that the patient can self-administer. Walking you from finish to end, the entire thing only takes a few minutes.

Ophthalmologists who have spent years in school and private practice are extremely opposed to the new “app” that is set to take their place. Many complaints have been filed by various professionals to the FDA wanting them to deem it unsafe for patients. The main complaint is that an eye exam is not only about prescribing eyeglasses, but it is also about doing an exam to ensure that there isn’t anything ominous going on. By only performing a portion of the yearly exam necessary, many feel as if it is putting the public at risk by not catching eye problems when prevention is still possible.

There are 11 states that already have laws against telemedicine, which has halted the use of the app. To-date Dallek insists that they have found over 99% satisfaction rate with their prescription and eye exam process. To check the validity of the eye exams, the General Medicine Association recruited eight volunteers. They did the exam online and then followed up to see if it would match how they were prescribed in person from a physical eye exam.

What they found was that, in three of the cases, the prescription was the exact same, in three more, the difference found was not significantly different. Two weren’t able to get a prescription online they were referred to the doctor through the app. For the ones who were sent to the doctor, they had risk factors that the app detected and, therefore, sent them along for further risk evaluation. The app rules out anyone who shows signs that something more may be going on, instead of prescribing eyeglasses, they will make a referral for further screening in person.

The only thing that was potentially missed was that, although one of the Opternative prescriptions were the same as when seen, the doctor noticed a high-pressure reading, which would lead to a risk factor for glaucoma.

So, what is the conclusion?

Opternative is an excellent way to get a prescription if you have been to the eye doctor in recent years and between the guideline age. Although, if you haven’t been for a while, or you have been noticing subtle differences in your eye vision, it is always better to take the time to see a doctor in person. Although a hassle, you only have one set of eyes, so it is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to your eye health.

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