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Saving on Eye Care: Bargains and Risks

Why cutting costs on eye care sometimes goes too far.

Caution When Shopping for Glasses Online continued...

For a study published last year in the journal Optometry, researchers ordered 154 pairs of glasses from the 10 most heavily trafficked Internet eyewear retailers. Nearly half of the lenses either failed to match the prescription submitted or did not meet impact safety standards, meaning they would be more likely to shatter if something hit them.

The study authors found other problems as well. Some vendors did not bother to verify prescriptions with the prescribing doctor before filling them, even though some states to which they were being shipped require such verification. Finally, the authors point out that, as far as they could learn, no one is overseeing the online eyewear industry.

The Proper Way to Get a Proper Fit

Safety and accuracy are not the only considerations when shopping for glasses. A proper fit is also important. Some sites offer customers the ability to upload pictures of themselves, which can then be used to create a virtual image of the customer wearing a selected pair of glasses. But, Pierce points out, that doesn't give customers a complete picture.

"How can you look at a computer monitor and know how well the glasses will fit and how heavy they will be?" asks Pierce, founder and senior partner of Trussville Vision Care.

Richard Schoen, OD, says that certain essential measurements, such as the distance from the center of one pupil to that of the other pupil, should only be made by an experienced eye care professional.

"You want a real human being to work with you," says Schoen, an optometrist at the Wilmer Eye Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Schoen is also concerned about what recourse online customers will have if things go awry.

"What would happen if the customer can't adapt to the frame or prescription? Are there returns? Remakes? Redos? I'm not aware of any governing body standing behind online ordering," says Schoen. "These are new frontiers."

Pierce advises patients to use the Internet as a way to educate themselves about what is available, to find frames that they think they might like, and then seek out a local store that can fit them properly with a pair of glasses that matches what they need and what they want.

"In my mind, the online experience could be positive if it is used as a means rather than an end," Pierce says.

Money-Saving Tips

But there must be a way to save money on eye care, right? In fact, there are several.

Pierce says that these days, more and more of his customers are keeping their old frames when they update their prescription. For most people, that will be the best way to keep costs down.

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