How Do Online Eye Exams Measure Up?
Laura is busy. She’s a mother of two kids, a professional event planner, and a wife. Between running the kids to soccer and scheduling meetings for her clients, she barely has time to take care of herself like she should. So, when Laura heard that she could get an eye exam done online in about 15-30 minutes, she was completely sold! “How convenient! I can take it on my lunch and still get my prescription for my contacts and glasses!”
Convenience is the main selling point for anything online, but can technology produce the same results as a flesh and blood doctor?
Let’s take an in depth look at everything your eye doctor does during a comprehensive exam.
Eye Doctors Examine the External Health of Your Eye
Red eyes, dry eyes, crusty lashes, you name it. Optometrists and ophthalmologists can diagnose your symptoms and provide relief by evaluating the surface of your eyes with a biomicroscope. Dry eyes, for example, can have a multitude of different causes, each requiring a different treatment plan. By sitting in front of the patient, doctors are able to draw their own conclusions about what the causes of the external symptoms are, rather than relying only on the patient’s word. What you are experiencing and describing might not be the whole story of the underlying problem, so by seeing you with their own eyes, doctors can help you feel better faster.
Eye Doctors Examine the Inside of Your Eyes
Eye diseases don’t often present with any symptoms until it's too late and vision has been compromised. During a comprehensive eye exam, your doctor performs many different tests to assess the health of your eyes. In our office specifically, we do three different tests to check for glaucoma symptoms and damage. We also offer dilation to all of our patients which can help diagnose disease such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. These diseases, when not diagnosed, monitored, or treated, produce the same end result: blindness.
There are even scarier things that doctors look for during your exam, such as detached retinas and tumors. If not found, a detached retina can lead to permanent blindness. Tumors, malignant or benign, can lead to irreversible vision loss or even death in some cases. Both of these examples are eye emergencies that need to be treated immediately. By taking the time to get a proper comprehensive eye exam with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, you can dramatically decrease the likelihood of blindness caused by having one of these problems.
Eye Doctors Evaluate Vision
This is the part of the eye exam that patients are most familiar with, but a vision assessment is more than determining if you can see 20/20. During this portion of the exam, the doctor will determine if you have a refractive error, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. You will look through a series of lenses and determine which lens seems clearest. The doctor combines your feedback with objective tests and her expertise to determine your prescription. In addition, the doctor assesses your binocular vision, which includes eye teaming skills and focusing. Online eye exams try to simulate this procedure, but professional guidance to monitor your accuracy during the tests is lacking.
The Bottom Line
As you can tell by this blog, your doctor is more than just a prescription writing machine. When you see a physical doctor, you’re not only getting the benefit of all the equipment they have, but also all of their past knowledge and experience. An online eye exam cannot produce the same level of care that a flesh and blood doctor can. You are not getting a comprehensive exam, you’re only getting an automated, impersonal refraction.
For most online eye exams, there will be a medical questionnaire at the beginning to screen you for any eye diseases that could make the test inaccurate. However, because the test relies on patient word alone, it may be unreliable. Patients could be unaware of a condition or willfully withholding information in order to complete the exam. The online exam also asks you to input your previous spectacle or contact lens prescription and will often produce a new prescription that is only slightly changed, or even identical to the old one.
Even more concerning, contact lens prescriptions are written without any fitting or testing done on the health of your corneas, the clear front surface of your eye on which the contact rests. If you have something wrong with your corneas, such as an irregular shape, contact lenses might slide around on your eyes, compromising your vision. Doctors also select contact lenses to match the health and shape of the front surface of your eye--they are not one size fits all! Poorly fitting contacts can lead to poor vision, discomfort, inability to wear contacts, and in extreme cases, permanent vision loss. Only a doctor can perform a contact lens fitting properly.
Unfortunately, online eye exams fall short on a lot of things that your friendly neighborhood eye doctor checks out for you. You just can't get the same level of care from a computer. When it comes to your vision, don’t bargain shop--it could lead to an irreversible mistake.