I can see clearly now: optometry put to the test
Competition is healthy in the profession, but where can you find the best value for money and should you pay for all those extras?
See here: eye exams can pick up on general health issues such as diabetes, MS or brain tumours. Photograph: Getty
All professions are conspiracies against the laity, said George Bernard Shaw. With that in mind, just how do you know your optician is telling the truth, and how can you get value for money?
Optometrist? Optician? What’s the difference?
“Optician” is used by the general public as shorthand, but there are differences. An optometrist can test eyes and issue prescriptions, but a dispensing optician can only issue prescriptions. Dispensing opticians help customers choose the right glasses and can advise on frames and lenses. Their aim is to encourage you to buy.
What should I expect from an eye test?
A typical consultation should last 20-30 minutes, says Declan Hovenden, manager of the Optometry Centre in DIT, which runs Ireland’s only optometry course. “The aim is to bring each patient as close as possible to 20:20 [optimal] vision. The test usually starts with a discussion around optical health and general health history, lifestyle, hobbies and work. Today, the amount of time spent on computers is also a big consideration.”
If your test takes only 10-15 minutes, this should raise a red flag. It is much more than just an eye test. “A typical eye exam should also involve a discussion of family history and general health, which can have a bearing on the eyes,” Hovenden explains. This works both ways: an eye exam can pick up health issues, such as diabetes, neurological disease (including multiple sclerosis), hypertension, cholesterol problems and even brain lesions or tumours.
The optometrist should also assess your binocular vision. A glaucoma test should be carried out on anybody aged 40 and over, and possibly on younger patients too, says Hovenden. All eye exams, including free ones, should be comprehensive, says Peter Coleman of the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI).
How much should an eye test cost?
Prices vary wildly. A survey carried out by the National Consumer Agency in 2011 found that the national average price for a standard eye exam was €32, with a low of €20 in Donegal and a high of €45 in Galway city. The AOI estimates that about 80 per cent of adults are entitled to a free two-yearly eye exam under their medical card or PRSI contributions. Free or discounted eye exams are common, but practices are not generally doing it out of kindness: they want you to buy their glasses.
Although this is all perfectly legal, some independent optometrists have raised eyebrows about certain practices. In particular, it is not a “free” eye exam if the patient is urged to make a claim on their medical card or PRSI contributions. And patients are always entitled to a copy of their prescription, regardless of any disclaimers to the contrary. Remember: you are not obliged to buy your glasses or contacts from the company that gave you the eye test.
Free eye tests are available at the National Optometry Centre in DIT, Kevin Street, a fully functioning eyecare facility that can dispense glasses and contact lenses. Tests are carried out, under supervision, by optometry students, so the process can take up to two hours. Eyezone, an association of independent optometrists, also offers occasional free eye tests for children.