Online Refractions: Threat or Opportunity?

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Online Refractions: Threat or Opportunity?

Kenny Sakazaki, OD, Sacramento Optometric Group, PEN Advisory Board

As independent ODs, we are kept very busy with patient care and all the things related to running our practices, while keeping a close watch of our competition and industry trends for opportunities and threats. Unlike patient’s walking out with their Rx’s and shopping for glasses and contacts online, Warby Parker’s recent announcement that they are now offering an online refraction app which would allow patients to renew their prescriptions without us is a different kind of threat because it crosses the line into the realm of patient care. But is this new threat just another opportunity for us?

Warby Parker is one of the latest of a growing list of companies offering online refractions. Opternative and Simple Contacts are others. The way it works is a patient uses the app with their smartphone and a computer screen to take a vision test. The results are then reviewed by an ophthalmologist and a spectacle lens Rx is issued to the patient that can be filled anywhere. Opternative and Simple Contacts will issue a contact lens Rx too!

The AOA and COA are fighting against online refractions by talking to legislators and the FDA about the potential risks to the public, and also with a direct campaign to educate the public. But here’s the opportunity for us, each and every one of us can use the topic of online refractions as a talking point with our patients to reinforce the importance of quality optometric care and why they need to stay with our practices.

When our office discussed the topic of online refractions during a recent staff meeting, all of my staff reacted unanimously with skepticism. How can it be accurate? Is it free? What about checking the fit of the contacts? Ocular health? Can you ask it questions? My staff’s comments pretty much summed up the talking points we can use when communicating with our patients.

Is it accurate? Common sense says no. It is no match for a careful objective and subjective refraction and binocular vision assessment in a controlled setting.

Is it free? No. For example, Opternative charges between $40 and $60. We include the refraction as part of the comprehensive exam.

Obviously, online refraction cannot assess a patient’s ocular or systemic health or evaluate the fit and performance of contacts. This can lead to potentially serious consequences.

Can you talk to the reviewing doctor? The answer to that FAQ on the Simple Contacts website is “You are not able to communicate directly to your reviewing Doctor in real time.” If that is the case, how can a patient express their lifestyle needs: computer Rx, sun Rx, sports Rx, etc.?

Nothing can beat the personal one-on-one interaction you provide to your patients and the total patient experience in your offices. So let’s use the threat of online refractions as an opportunity for all of us to talk it up!