Of course, getting a full exam every year is not always pleasant — or possible — for patients. If your prescription expires but you only want new frames, it can be a pain to wait for a proper exam.
“Convention is really important,” says Jorge Cuadros, a researcher in clinical telesana at the UC Berkeley School of Optometry. “Now you have to call, make an appointment, drop by, take the time off work, and then get your eye exam done. And then you spend so much time when you can only take an online test just to renew your prescription.”
Warby is very aware of the limitations of the service. The app cannot detect serious eye problems, such as macular degeneration or cancer. Gilboa, co-CEO of the Company, says he sees the virtual vision test as a complement to traditional eye exams, not a replacement. The goal is not to erase all the nuances of a complete exam in one app.
“We don’t replicate all the pieces,” he says. “We’re really looking forward to completing that complete health exam and just focusing on the piece that refers to your ability to see and your visual acuity through glasses and contact lenses.”
This separation of services in telemedicine developed during the Covid-19 pandemic, making many health checks much more accessible for many people. But a side effect of this trend is that how patients think about comprehensive health care has become fragmented.
“This isn’t just in optometry,” Richdale says. “We’ve seen that you can go online and get a birth control prescription or testosterone or other things. And these companies are in the business of making money. So they’re hunting for pieces that they think they can make, because they’re relatively benign and they they sell directly to the consumer, thinking, ‘They’re glasses. What harm can they do?’
Companies like Warby Parker can provide waiver copies, but that doesn’t mean users should consider them. The easier it is to skip traditional care, the easier it is for people to ignore seemingly small health problems until it’s too late.
“The general philosophy in the United States seems to be to move away from preventive care and health care and more toward urgent care,” says Richdale. “You’re kind of kicking the can up the road until one day it’s your problem.”
Experts say the problem is not with telemedicine itself, but rather how it is implemented. Cuadros describes an optimal approach as one that extends, but does not replace, the existing care that physicians provide. And that can be used better by doctors at the local level. Virtual vision tests can be very helpful, especially if it is in the hands of a doctor who is familiar with your needs as a patient.
“Maybe that person behind the curtain shouldn’t just be an anonymous ophthalmologist somewhere on the panel of any company,” Cuadros says. “But it should be your local ophthalmologist, the person who would see it anyway. Involve local eye care providers in the equation.”
Whether Warby Parker can build enough trust to make people abandon their local optometrist and adopt a hybrid approach to their vision care – half online, half in Warby Parker magazine – remains to be seen. But as it expands its presence and capabilities both online and offline, the convenience of its online services will be a strong selling point.
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