Online eye exam can issue prescriptions – but does it work?

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A new online eye exam, that issues a prescriptions to patients, is raising eyebrows within the eye care community. The FOX31 Problem Solvers put it to the test.

Typically, if someone needs glasses or contact lenses, they will take time off work and make an appointment to see an eye doctor.

But Opternative is a new online eye exam that promises to take away that hassle. The company says all you need is 30 minutes, a computer to display the test, and a smart phone to record your answers.

An ophthalmologist then reviews your results, and writes you a prescription.

“Wow, technology has come a long way,” said our first tester, busy stay-at-home mom, Eetung Row. “I love it.”

Row hasn’t had her eyes checked in years. She has never had a prescription.

She begins the test and is told to calibrate the screen using a credit card. She types in her shoe size, to determine the steps to take away from the computer for proper distance.

She follows the guide, looking at her computer screen, and then selecting the answer on her smart phone.

“The fact that I have to look at my smart phone and then adjust my eyes to that back and forth is troublesome to me,” she said.

After a while, Row said the test left her with more questions.

“I don’t feel confident in the exam that I did myself,” she said.

That’s what has some eye care professionals concerned about the online eye exam – that folks are testing themselves, without their doctor present, and may confuse the online test for a comprehensive exam.

Some states have banned Opternative, but it is available in Colorado.

“This is what we use to determine a patients prescription,” said ophthalmologist Richard Davidson, as he shows us his equipment at the UCHealth Eye Center.

“Unfortunately, there are diseases of the eye that are painless that we don’t know we have unless they’re diagnosed by an ophthalmologist,” he said.

Davidson tells the Problem Solvers that the problem with Opternative is what the exam could miss.

“Every day, we see patients who come in just for a glasses check and we find something that’s concerning and that warrants further work up,” he said. “And if patients are doing this online and thinking this takes place of the eye exam, it doesn’t.”

Row’s emailed test results were inconclusive. She will schedule an appointment with an eye doctor.

I think the only way it would work is if someone already wears glasses or contacts and only needs an update,” Davidson said.

Our second tester, Michelle Gudenkauf, wears glasses or contacts every day and updates her prescription annually.

“It’s very similar to an eye exam so far,” she said while taking the test.

For Michelle, the online eye exam was simple. The tests initial results show she’s nearsighted, which is accurate.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” she said. “It’ll be interesting, as strong as my prescription is, to see if it will give me a true and accurate prescription,” she said.

However, her results from Opternative were inconsistent with her previous prescription. Opternative offered a free re-test to get it right.

"You know, if it got me a good prescription, I definitely would probably do this,” she said.

Those interested in trying Opternative can take the test for free at Opternative.com.

A prescription for both glasses and contact lenses costs $60.

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