Posted by: Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons in Latest News

Smartphones and the internet have ushered in a new era of convenience for several areas of life, but constant access to handy tools and unfiltered information can also have its downsides. Ease of use and ease of access can lead us to think we have more accurate information than we actually do, and when it comes to medical information, this can be dangerous. As we get access to more advanced technology every day, it’s important to keep in mind that technology is a fantastic complement to, but not a replacement for, real-life experts and interactions.

How Can Blue Light Hurt Your Eyes The American Optometric Association (AOA) recently published an article warning about Opternative, and app-based company that promises cheap, convenient online vision tests to consumers. The AOA’s warning focuses on the app’s “Find a Doctor” feature. Certified eyecare professionals are concerned that if their names are listed in this feature, patients will think they are affiliated with Opternative. This is not the first time that the young company has come under fire. In 2015, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) compelled them to remove ambiguous wording, also related to the “Find a Doctor” feature, from their website. As a patient, however, the issue you need to be aware of is the questionable vision-test tool.

We’re not singling out Opternative, though the AOA and FDA do seem to question their practices and claims more than those of similar companies. There’s a handful of other companies that also offer vision-related “telemedicine,” and they can achieve some basic prescription accuracy. However, the FDA and other organizations have issued statements that led a few states, including Georgia, to place limitations or outright bans on such services. As you might guess, online vision tests are not currently FDA-approved. These companies generally refer to their evaluations as “vision tests” instead of “eye exams” to avoid making claims about their ability to assess eye health. Eye exams include checks for eye diseases and other eye-health irregularities, with a vision test only being one aspect of a true eye exam at a brick-and-mortar ophthalmology office like Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons.

One of the more obvious limitations of online and app-based eyewear prescription companies is the lack of personalization they can provide. Astigmatism, especially a more extreme case, is difficult to assess without an in-person exam. Eyecare telemedicine companies also have low accuracy for patients who have a drastically different prescription in each eye. The main problem we see with this technology, and how it’s being marketed, is that it might give patients a false impression that they’re receiving adequate eyecare with a simple smartphone app. The bottom line, however, is that everyone needs regular face-to-face, comprehensive eye exams, as the technology is a long way away from being able to replace an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

To be fair, there are some positives that could come from this technology. People in developing regions of the world with limited access to health care could benefit greatly from having access to basic corrective lenses. However, in places like the United States where complete eyecare is readily available, patients are far better off with office visits.

If you do decide to use an online eyewear prescription service, keep a couple of key points in mind. First, make sure that a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist will be evaluating the virtual vision test at some point. Second, do not think of a vision test performed through an app or computer monitor as a replacement for a comprehensive or even routine eye exam. Doing so will make you run the risk of missing warning signs that only a trained medical professional can pick up on in person.

The more responsible of these companies market their online vision tests as mere complements to real professional vision care. The AOA describes virtual eye tests as “flawed” and warns that “prioritizing convenience ahead of routine, comprehensive eye health, and vision care risks raising the incidence of undiagnosed eye disorders among the public.” While we see some potential benefits to this technology, we at Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons cannot recommend it in good conscience, and we side firmly with the AOA and FDA on this issue. If it isn’t FDA-approved, our advice is to stay away.

Your eye health is something you should only entrust to experienced, credentialed healthcare professionals. If you have any questions about the health of your eyes, or if you would like to schedule a routine or comprehensive medical eye exam, contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to make an appointment with Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information and advice.