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What to Know About an Online Eye Exam

ou have probably heard of several companies that offer glasses or contact lens prescriptions through an online “eye examination,” claiming that you can fix your vision without even leaving the comfort of your own home.  While this may sound convenient, an online eye exam will never be an appropriate alternative to visiting the eye doctor. Here is what you should know about online eye exams, and why you should think twice before cancelling your annual visit to your eye doctor.  

How Do Online Eye Exam Tests Work?

While they may advertise themselves as “online eye exams,” these internet-based services are nothing more than vision tests.  They claim to have the ability to determine an accurate glasses or contact lens prescription using a computer screen and a smart phone.  To complete an online vision test, you must calibrate your computer screen by considering factors such as screen size and distance from the screen.  While standing a specific distance away from the computer screen, you use your smart phone to answer a series of questions and provide responses regarding what you can clearly see, and an algorithm determines your glasses prescription.  Some online vision tests even offer renewal contact lens prescriptions for those who have worn contacts in the past.  

While online tests may be able to provide a glasses prescription, they are not a medical evaluation.  The only function these vision tests serve is to identify refractive error and provide a prescription that helps correct vision.  This means these online “exams” are completely unable to evaluate ocular health. Some online exam services may ask a series of questions regarding your ocular history, but do not have true insight to any ocular health risks that may be present.  They also are unable to evaluate binocular vision, or how well your eyes function together; in some cases, this can result in eye strain through the new prescription. A true eye examination is much more comprehensive than an online vision test and would entail both an assessment of binocular vision and an ocular health evaluation, guaranteeing that your eyes are in good health and no underlying conditions are present.  

Accuracy of Online Eye Exam Vision Tests

In order to measure visual acuity and calculate a prescription, online vision tests require the user to calibrate the program and measure specific distances.  This leaves room for human error, which could potentially lead to inaccuracy in the algorithm. Additionally, the user is unable to speak with a doctor in order to ask questions or voice concerns.  So while the programs may be able to provide a prescription that corrects to 20/20 in most cases, it may not always be taking into account all available factors, meaning it may not be providing the most accurate prescription. 

Hidden Costs of Online Vision Tests

Many online vision tests advertise that they are a cheaper and more efficient option than a visit to the optometrist.  However, they may not be the bargain they claim to be. These services do not allow you to use any vision or medical insurance, and all associated costs are out-of-pocket.  If the new prescription is inaccurate, the user is forced to pay for another prescription. They may ultimately be a pricey option which only provide a portion of the services available at a comprehensive eye examination.