Online Eye Exams: Money Saving or a Bad Idea?

glasses prescriptions from your computer
No more eye chart?

How many people think it’s too expensive to go the the eye doctor? How many people don’t have time to go see the eye doctor? How many people would rather have their fingernails peeled off than have to get eye drops? If you answered yes to one of these questions, Opternative might be for you. Opternative is new online eye exam done exclusively from your computer or smart phone. The fee is only $35 and that gives you a real prescription for eyeglasses. It could be available as soon as summer 2014. Sounds great, but is an online eye exam a good idea?

Limitations of Getting Your Eyes Checked Online

It appears that for now, Opternative is only available for people ages 18- 40 who have no history of diabetes, glaucoma, high blood pressure, neurologic issues, or other health concerns that might affect eyes. While their website does not specifically say it, limiting the age means it is only for people who don’t need bifocals or reading glasses that become necessary when presbyopia happens (can’t see up close or arms are too short).

The information on the website is pretty vague, but it appears to do the exam, you look at images on a screen and line some things up from a distance measured by how large you shoe size is. I’m curious to see the final product, but it would seem this company is placing a lot of credit on people following directions. Considering that about 5 out of every 10 patients I tell to cover their left eye immediately cover their right one, this might be asking a lot.

Is it a Legitimate Prescription?

According to the website, an ophthalmologist will review and sign your prescription. I am a bit surprised because it would seem to open the doctor up for some liability, but I guess you probably sign your life away before you get the final Rx. Glasses can be purchased  at anywhere that accepts outside prescriptions. Online eye exams cannot be used for contacts.

What If I Get My Glasses and Can’t See?

One benefit to getting a prescription at a private office is that the office will generally work with you and do a remake or exchange of some sort if you are not happy with your product. I doubt a store is going to be willing to do that if you bring in a prescription from online. I guess time will tell if Opternative will stand behind their services if patients aren’t satisfied.

Honestly, some people have very easy prescriptions and aren’t picky. They would probably do fine with this service. Others who have higher amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism might have more trouble. Also, some people just can’t give good answers and need the help of a doctor to walk them through the process.

If you are the person who answers the eye doctor’s question of which choice is better with something like this:

“Well, the bottom of the g looks more defined on #1, but the c looks wider on choice #2.”

then please don’t try this exam at home.

The Real Issue With Online Eye Exams

As a practicing optometrist, I should be fighting this technology like the recording industry fought digital music. You see how well that worked out. I think we have to embrace new technology and find ways to incorporate it into practice.

The Opternative website says that by getting a prescription, you realize that this is not a health exam and that you need to follow up with a real doctor to have eye health checked. Who on earth is going to do that?

While ages 18-40 might be low risk for most eye diseases, I have seen patients in this demographic with glaucoma, holes or tears in the retina, and people with odd pupil, retinal, or visual field defects who had 20/20 vision but also were in the early stages of diseases like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or autoimmune diseases like lupus. An thorough eye exam checks much more the prescription for glasses. 

This Ain’t 1-800-Contacts

Private optometrists have bemoaned the sale of contacts and glasses online for years, but to order contacts, patients must have a legitimate prescription By law, doctors are required to check vision and eye health before issuing that prescription, regardless of where you purchase glasses or contacts.

I can’t in good conscience support the ability of people to get a prescription without an eye health check. Maybe doctors could make it easier by offering a lower cost exam for the health part if you don’t need the prescription? If I were still a practice owner, that’s probably what I’d do if I saw that this technology is going to take off.

I’m very curious about the process, so I’ll certainly check it out when it become available. I wouldn’t be surprised if the medical and optometry lobbyists don’t find some way to block it, so it might not become reality.  I’m trying to keep an open mind, but I’ll probably still think it’s a bad idea, even if my prescription comes out to be 100% correct.

Would you save a few bucks to get an exam online? If so, would you worry about not having your eye health checked?

I have no affiliate relationship with Opternative. 


Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, of course, writing. She is currently the editor-in-chief of


  1. I don’t care how cheap it would be, I’d rather pay more and actually go to an eye doctor that I know and trust. There are too any scams online for me to trust getting a competent and complete eye exam.

  2. Since the online “visit” is so cheap what kind of eye doctor would even want that job? I doubt the caliber of doctor they hire is too low for what I would expect for quality care. Saving money doesn’t always work in one’s favor and I see this blowing up in people’s faces.

  3. This makes me nervous, honestly. I like the idea of going in and sitting down in front of our optometrist, face to face. Then again, we have vision coverage, so that definitely helps my decision. 🙂

  4. I don’t like the sound of this one bit! When I go for an eye exam (long term spectacle wearer here!) I like to not just have my sight checked by a qualified professional but also have my eye *health* checked at the same time. Even *if* you could do an eye exam online (which, the cynic in me, says won’t be very accurate) you won’t have someone checking your eyes for any health-related issues.

    What I *do* approve of though, from a financial perspective, is buying my glasses online. At least here in the UK, glasses are so expensive (think $100-200 for many pairs) that I take my in-person prescription and then order my glasses from a company in the UK that charges less than half the price.

    Oh, and I stopped wearing contact lenses in favor of glasses, which are, in my opinion, generally more cost effective.

  5. I don’t know…I think I’d still feel better going in to a real doctor. That being said, it’s pretty easy for me to save money right now because I’ve never had eye issues. I think I’ve been to an eye doctor maybe 3 times in my life. But I can imagine an online thing would be a good substitute.

  6. No, I wouldn’t, but again, I’m also outside their age range too. 🙂 But like you said, having an optometrist check your eye health and ask you questions, is worth the extra price and time. No, it isn’t always easy to fit in an appointment by my eye health is worth it to me! And I am still chuckling over 50% of your clients automatically covering the wrong eye. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

    1. I always like the feeling of relief whenever I finish an appointment. I’m not sure I’d feel that online.

  7. It’s an interesting concept, but I would not feel comfortable with it. My optometrist is really thorough and I think it’s well worth the money to go in-person. Then again, my vision is horrible, so I’ve always safeguarded it. My prescription has stayed the same for the last few years, but as you said, you can see if there are other underlying issues with an eye exam.

    1. I’d be really hesitant to use something like this with a bad prescription. The higher it is, the more important to get all the numbers correct.

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