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Opticians – a metaphor

Filed in: consumerism, marketing, vent, Web, Sat, Sep 24 2011 23:45 PT

Today, I needed an optician, and none would help me.

I have a prescription, but it’s for contact lenses, so it’s missing one measurement I need so that the lenses’ focal point will be set properly in a new pair of glasses I’m buying.

I need an optician to measure my pupillary distance. You know that thing they do where they hold up a little plastic ruler to each eye for about 5 seconds, and write a couple numbers down? That. The people I talked to wouldn’t do that for me, even for money. I would have paid $20 for that one skill that they have, that takes them 5 seconds. But they wouldn’t do it.

The reason they do this is as plain as the nose on my face (especially in its current condition, that is, unencumbered by glasses). Opticians make their money selling eyewear. Specifically, they take your eye doctor’s prescription and turn it into the eyewear you need. An optician is to an eye doctor what a pharmacist is to a physician. Except, of course, your pharmacist hasn’t figured out how to sell you a high-index UV-coated Prada pill case.

In this day and age, however, there are many new places popping up that offer comparable products for much less money. All that is needed are the numbers on the prescription, plus a couple more that the optician is qualified to provide, and your glasses come in the mail. This destroys the potential for opticians to profit on your frames, lenses, coatings and other upsell opportunities they may have. So it appears they have chosen instead not to offer services to people who don’t want to buy their other products, even when they would happily pay for an optician’s skills à la carte.

And that’s fine, really, especially if you’re a libertarian. I’d have some respect left for the opticians today who gave me the cold shoulder if they had told me money was the reason, but each was at pains to state otherwise. I was told that it was policy, that they couldn’t guarantee the work, even that it was harmful to their integrity as opticians to spend 5 seconds measuring my pupils.

Recently, it seems even information about my own eyes, information which I had commissioned and paid for, is being treated as proprietary. I have asked for a copy of my prescription from my own eye doctor, and been refused. This was unthinkable even a couple years ago. Imagine your physician telling you that you can’t find out what he’s telling the pharmacist to dispense to you. Once you have left the exam room, the experience is no longer about helping you see well: it is about ensuring the greatest amount of money stays in the office. They will cling to your data and the skills you lack to keep you coming back to them, rather than finding a more efficient solution.

Today, I needed an optician, and none would help me. Not because they couldn’t, but because doing it their way makes them more money. And now I’m generally distrustful of opticians, if not actively looking forward to their obsolescence. From this point forward, I will only get my vision checked by an eye doctor who will hand me a printed copy of all my information at the end of the visit.

Web professionals, you might want to bookmark this. It may become relevant to you at some point in the future.

5 Responses to “Opticians – a metaphor”

  1. MIke D. says:

    Unless you don’t have insurance, I wouldn’t go anywhere near an optician anyway unless it’s just to purchase goods (not services). You want at the very least an optometrist and ideally an opthamologist. Those are really the only people you should let anywhere near your eyes.

    That said, however, I’ve noticed the same thing you are noticing… that the industry has tried to split up the whole “contacts vs. glasses” prescription business. Most places nowadays will either make you pay for two separate appointments or at the very least pay for the two different prescriptions. If you find a place you can go to who will still give you both prescriptions as part of one process, stick with them. I use Queen Anne Vision clinic and they’ll do both for you, and not give you any shit about it either.

  2. Glenn Fleishman says:

    Oddly, my optician (part of an eye doctor’s office, even) suggested I go to Costco to get a cheap set of “+250″ (my correction) glasses to avoid the expense of paying for a full-on custom pair for a backup. I have slight astigmatism, so such a pair would ultimately tire my eyes. But far better than my current backup set which is two notches behind (and which I’ve been wearing after my up-to-date glasses fell into two parts after 10 years of wear!).

    Not the same issue you’re facing, but it’s a kind of monopoly you’re dealing with. Too easy for an optician to give out information that causes eye strain or disregards more serious eye problems, which could be considered a form of malpractice, etc., etc.

  3. My understanding is that an eye doc is legally obligated to provide your prescription if you ask for it. (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2004/10/BUS63-contactfaq.pdf). And if they don’t, it’s within your rights to file a complaint with the FTC (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt143.shtm).

    PS I would have linkified those, but I wasn’t sure your blog permitted markup in comments.

  4. My girlfriend had the exact same experience a couple of months ago. Bad, bad, bad.

  5. Tom McEwan says:

    Hi, I have heard of this as well. It’s such a scam. I am so glad that we the consumer can now go where we want to purchase cheaper frames and lenses. When you see what other companies such as Costco charges as compared to the opticians charge – well they should be ashamed!

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