Online vision tests are offered by a variety of companies. These tests are not good for all conditions, and they are not meant to replace your doctor-recommended yearly eye exam.

Online eye tests can still often be used to check for a variety of eye issues and offer a lens prescription. These online tests have proven quite controversial and have several notable limits. (Learn More)

These types of eye exams are not available everywhere. They are generally not covered by insurance.

They have some restrictive limits on whom they can help. Patients outside of a certain age range and those with certain medical conditions do not qualify for online eye tests.

These eye exams also cannot test for every eye condition. This is why they should not be used as a replacement for regular eye exams. (Learn More)

woman rubbing eyes after staring at computer

Several doctors and organizations are critical of online eye exams. Notably, the American Optometric Association (AOA) has been highly critical and seems to largely think these exams represent a net negative to public health. They singled out Opternative, one of the most popular online eye examination providers, for unethical business practices. (Learn More)

Other doctors, especially those working for online eye exam providers, have come out in favor of these tests. If you intend to get one, remain informed and understand that these tests seem to be inferior to in-person tests, beyond admittedly the convenience and cost factors.

There is also a lack of research on the efficacy and safety of these tests. While this does not guarantee they cannot help you, it is certainly something to bear in mind. (Learn More)

Online Vision Tests

A variety of companies have begun to offer online eye exams. As with almost all telemedicine, this has started an ongoing conversation about who should use these exams, who should see a doctor in person, and the overall efficacy of these online tests.

The goal of these eye exams is to test your eyesight. This is not the same as checking your overall eye health, as an in-person ophthalmologist generally would.

Some conditions these online tests might check for include:

  • Sharpness of vision.
  • Astigmatism.
  • Light sensitivity, or photophobia.
  • Color blindness.

No legitimate online vision exam provider will claim these tests should totally replace visits to an eye doctor. You should still see an eye doctor in person every one to two years.

Limitations of Online Eye Tests

Even the most optimistic look at these online eye tests accepts that they are not ideal for every situation. While generally cheaper without insurance compared to an in-person exam, online eye test providers don’t usually accept insurance, which may make them more expensive for some people.

Online eye exams are not available everywhere, and many companies are relatively limited in the pool of patients they can help. For example, the company Opternative does not operate in every state. They only prescribe to patients between ages 18 and 45, and there are several conditions that prevent a patient from receiving care, including diabetes and glaucoma.

These limitations generally make sense for the sake of patient safety. Some medical conditions require that a patient has a more thorough exam than what can be provided online.

The harshest criticisms of these online eye exams often stem from the fact that some eye conditions cannot be properly diagnosed online and need timely help to avoid permanent sight loss. An online eye exam just delays the person getting appropriate treatment.

Young businesswoman using computer in dark office

Controversy Surrounding Online Eye Exams

Many organizations feel that online eye tests are ineffective and may even represent a net negative to public eye health. Patients use them due to convenience or cost savings, only to receive subpar care. Some patients think the exams can replace in-person eye exams, which they cannot.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) has been quite condemning of online eye tests, calling out Opternative (the above-mentioned company) specifically for failing to properly follow FDA regulations when releasing their service.

AOA’s primary complaint against such services is twofold. First, the information gathered by these tests is not enough to safely or accurately prescribe a treatment, including glasses. Second, these tests may misinform patients, who then might delay more immediate and essential sight-saving treatment

They recommend you report any harm or inaccurate prescriptions received due to these tests to the FDA via the FDA’s MedWatch page. This is a good practice, as it allows the FDA to monitor any problems and bad practices to keep patients safer.

Should You Get an Online Eye Test?

There are professionals who advocate for online testing. While the biases of such individuals should be clear, several licensed doctors working for companies that provide online eye exams and similar services have spoken in favor of the services.

Dr. Nagori, who works as medical director for the company Simple Contacts, cites the fact that those going to the eye doctor for contact lenses generally leave with the same prescription they originally had. An online exam is more convenient when a prescription stays the same.

As this debate continues, consumers should stay safe and informed. Presently, there is not enough evidence to make a solid conclusion on the safety and efficacy of online eye tests, which are still evolving.

Online eye exams may be good for patients with no other options and only minor eye issues. It should again be emphasized that an in-person exam will be better, providing a more comprehensive examination of overall vision and eye health.

References

Can I Test My Vision Online? (June 2019). WebMD.

Online Eye Tests. American Optometric Association (AOA).

Online Vision Tests: Time Saver or Risk Maker? (August 2018). Review of Ophthalmology.

This Is What Happened When I Tried An Online Eye Exam. (June 2016). Prevention.

MedWatch: The FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program. (2019). U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).