Why should it be necessary — legally required — to go to an eye doctor’s office to get your vision checked — and a prescription for new contacts or eyeglasses issued?
It’s 2017 — not 1917 — and high-tech apps such as Opternative and GlassesOn can check for refractive error via a 25 minute online test, which is reviewed by an ophthalmologist licensed in your state. The doctor then writes a digital prescription, which you can use to shop for the best deal on new contacts or eyeglasses wherever you like.
You don’t have to leave your home — or take time off from work.
No driving for an hour — or waiting for another hour in the doctor’s office.
The online tests are diagnostically as accurate as an in-person vision exam and — the horror! — more convenient and less expensive than making the schlep to an eye doctor’s office.
Which is probably why the American Optometric Association is seeing red.
The AOA is basically a guild — and like any guild, it hates competition from outsiders. That’s why the AOA is lobbying hard to get laws passed that would make it illegal to offer online vision checks.
Because it cuts out the middleman.
The claim is that it’s all about protecting patient health — but given there’s no evidence whatsoever to support such claims, it seems to really be all about protecting the bottom line of traditional see-them-in-person eye doctors — and the lens manufacturers they often have a too-cozy business relationship with.
Legislation has been put forward in New Mexico, Nevada, Connecticut and Minnesota to outlaw this innovative online vision testing technology.
One laudable exception is Virginia, where SB 1321, sponsored by Delegate Peter Farrell, would allow online visiojn checks.
The bill will also stop the one-hand-washes-the-other kind of deal in the doctor’s office, where some optometrists sell lenses while also writing prescriptions in-house for the brand of lenses they just happen to sell. With this set-up, patients are steered into “one stop” shopping — and often end up paying more than they would have if they’d had the opportunity to shop around.
Or even knew they could shop around.
They assume they have to buy what the prescription says — and since the doctor sells what it says…
Thankfully, this will no longer happen in Virginia. Even better is that the bill will set reasonable safeguards in place so consumers can begin using the online equivalent of Uber and Airbnb.
After all, what’s the big deal? If the tests are effective and safe — as they’ve been shown to be — and if a licensed eye doctor reviews the tests before writing the script — what, exactly, is the problem?
One tactic the AOA has used to create fear in the public’s mind — and put pressure on lawmakers — is to package deal a vision check with an eye health exam — implying there’s a health risk if people are allowed to skip going to a doctor’s office just to have their vision checked.
But a vision test is not an eye health test (e.g., a glaucoma screening) and there is no evidence to suggest that merely checking visual acuity is any more of a danger than it is to use one of those automated blood pressure machines that you can find at almost any supermarket nowadays to keep track of your BP.
Even the AOA concedes the point, admitting that otherwise healthy adults aged 18-60 don’t need on-site/”bricks and mortar” exams just to have a prescription for contacts or eyeglasses filled.
In Virginia, the state-level ophthalmologists’ association sent out an e-mail explicitly stating that none of their members knew of anyone who’d been harmed as a result of taking an online vision test.
The Virginia legislation reflects the overwhelming amount of empirical evidence that is on the side of innovation — not the contact lens cronies.
Despite this data, contact cronies across the country still want to make more — at the expense of their patients. By stifling competition and choice.
It’s crazy that, with health care costs rising like an irresistible tsunami, anyone could object to a new way of helping people see clearly, more conveniently — and for less money.
Hopefully, more lawmakers like those in Virginia will see through the AOA’s efforts to use them to protect their cozy little arrangement.
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Eric Peters Peters is a Virginia resident and political columnist whose work has been featured in The Washington Times, American Spectator and The Washington Examiner. This column was originally published in the Roanoke Times on March 8, 2017.