Recently, there has been more talk and questions about ordering glasses on line. More internet sites are offering glasses at often very inexpensive rates. People select a frame and then type in their glasses prescription and then their glasses arrive in the mail 1-2 weeks later. In theory, this would sound great, especially for those who are very cost conscious.
The reality is that some studies have shown an nearly 50% error rate in the prescription lenses that were ordered. This rate was especially high for progressive lenses or “no-line” bifocals. The stronger the prescription and more complicated, the more likely it was to have errors. The error rates were lower with single vision lenses with simpler prescriptions. All lenses require a PD measurement (pupillary distance or the distance between the eyes) for the optics of the lens to line up properly with the eye and for the patient to see well. Multifocal or bifocal design lenses require even more measurements and they require the frame to be adjusted properly and on the person’s face to make the proper measurements. This is often difficult to do in front of a computer. Some companies use web cameras to “superimpose” the frame on the patient’s face, but is this really showing a proper fit? In many cases, no, it doesn’t show how the frame sits on the ears or if it is straight and adjusted properly with the proper angles and lens tilt that help maximize a person’s vision through their glasses.
The frame is just part of the problem; many times certain prescriptions require special types of lenses and lens treatments to maximize the vision and weight of the lenses. An optometrist and optician give the best recommendations to patients about what type of lenses would suit their visual needs to maximize their eye sight. Otherwise, a patient is left to “figure it out” by selecting from pull down menus on the website. They really don’t know the options or what would provide the best visual outcome.
Then there is the old fashion issue of the doctor/patient relationship, warranties, and customer service. Private practice optometry has thrived in this area where long term relationships of trust are built with patients. The practice strives to provide superior products, education, warranties, and service to their patients. Although, private practices try to stay competitive with prices, they often cannot compete with the big box stores or online pricing, especially if it is coming from another country! Price is not the only factor when it comes to frame and lens selection. Many times, if cost an issue talk to the doctor or staff, they often have “value packages” to help with cost concerned patients and sometimes they are even willing to work out a payment plan if necessary. Most importantly, if people want to continue to have the option of experiencing superior eye care at a private practice and appreciate the benefits of a relationship with their doctor. Then patients should consider remaining loyal to their doctor’s practices with their eyewear purchases. Otherwise, private practice optometry could drastically change from how we experience it today.