Online eye exams – a step forward or backward?

Have you heard of online eye exams? At-home, self-administered online tests are now able to give patients prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses. And while it sounds great, it poses some real problems.

Here’s how they work: You take an exam at home on your computer. Then you get a prescription, which an Optometrist reviews before you go out and buy your new glasses or contact lenses wherever you want. Sounds great, right?

Actually, testing for prescription needs is a very small part of a traditional, in-office eye exam. When your eyes are tested by an Optometrist, they are looking at your overall eye health – something that an online test can’t do. It can’t test for cataracts, glaucoma, or diabetes, as a few examples.

The concern is that patients may take this test, and think that they’ve had a full eye health exam – so they won’t go in to an Optometrist as well. The American Optometric Association’s president, Dr. Steve Loomis, has these concerns as well. He stated:

“abuses of technology’s promise and false claims that can leave patients misled, misinformed or confused…The consumer believes they’ve had an exam when they really haven’t. Rather than expanding care, patients think that they’ve had care that they don’t have, and so they don’t get the care that they need.”

Is it really that important to get a full eye health exam? I’ve had a few patients in the last couple of weeks who have had problems that this online test couldn’t have caught. I had a woman who I determined may have a parathyroid problem, after further testing it turned out she did and was then able to have it treated. I had another woman, a 42-year-old who came in for her first ever routine eye exam, and it turned out she had a retinal hole. Just a few days ago I had a 32-year-old man in for an eye exam, only wanting a new prescription for glasses and contact lenses, but I’m now testing him for glaucoma (which is generally symptom-free at his age) because he has many signs of the disease. None of these issues could have been diagnosed with this online exam – so it’s extremely important for everyone to get a full, routine eye exam from a trained Optometrist on a regular basis.

By Dr. Nazima Sangha of Family Eyecare Centre