The annoyance of going to the doctor keeps tons of people from finding out if they need glasses or updating their prescription. But it turns out you don’t need one of those giant multi-lens machines to do an eye exam. Opternative has passed its clinical trials and today launched its $40 online eye exam.
All you need is a computer, smartphone, Wi-Fi and 25 minutes to take its test about which lines look blurrier. Within 24 hours, Opternative will review your results and send you back a prescription you can use to get glasses or contacts anywhere, including online stores like Warby Parker, or a meatspace brick-and-mortar glasses shop.
Opternative is now the only approved online eye exam. With enough awareness and the partnerships its working on with big Internet retailers, it could earn a fortune undercutting standard $50 to $100 ophthalmologist visits and making the world see clearer.
Software Eats The Eye Exam
After graduating optometry school, Dr. Steven Lee was sure that computers and mobile phones had to offer an alternative to traditional autorefractor machines used for vision tests. He teamed up with serial entrepreneur Aaron Dallek to start Opternative out of Chicago.
With a $1 million seed from Tribeca Venture Partners, Chicago Ventures, Healthbox, and more in early 2014, it added CTO Ayo Jimoh [disclosure: He’s a friend from college], and began perfecting its technology. A $2 million bridge led by Pritzker Group, Jump Capital, and previous investors pushed it through clinical trials.
Lee tells me the trials were “a wild success” and that regulators have deemed Opternative’s online test “statistically equivalent to the refractive exams done in the doctor’s office.” It’s now cleared in 45 states and is starting with availability in 27 of them.
To take the test, you just go to Opternative’s website and answer some eligibility questions regarding when you were last tested and if you have any eye conditions. You calibrate your screen by measuring a credit card, and sync your phone as a remote control for your computer over Wi-Fi and an SMS confirmation.
The test takes about 25 minutes. You follow the dictated and written instructions to cover one eye at a time, look at your computer screen, and answer corresponding visual acuity questions on your phone. How many lines are in a symbol? Which of these symbols is a different shape from the rest? What colored number is in the surrounding dots? For some tests, you’ll give your shoe size and be told to walk a certain number of heel-to-toe steps away from your computer before answering.
At the end, you can pay $40 to have Opternative review your results and send back an approved prescription for glasses or contacts. It’s $60 for both. One caveat: If you’ve never worn corrective lenses, you can only get an immediate prescription for glasses. If you’re updating a prescription and submit your old one, you can get contacts.
I’ve been finding distant street signs and airport gate numbers a bit blurry, so I took Opternative’s test myself. The instructions were clear and the remote control worked fine.
The test feels a tad lengthy, but that enhanced my feeling that this was a medical-grade exam. My only complaint is that sometimes, just like with an in-person test, it’s tough to know if there are really three lines or four, if it’s an X or an O. Being at a doctor’s office, you feel a sense of confidence that the results will be right even if you screw up or guess some questions. While Opternative reviews the results before issuing a prescription through its HIPAA-compliant site, it takes more faith that the test won’t be botched by some bad answers.
As far as the clinical trials say, though, Opternative is just as accurate. However, Opternative can’t detect eye-based medical conditions, so you’ll still need to visit a doctor every few years to check for those.
Vision For The Future
Until now, the only ways to get eye exams were the doctor’s office, house calls with specialty equipment, or expensive smartphone dongles like one made by Smart Vision Labs. Eyenetra is working on a VR headset-based test, but Opternative is currently the only test you can take at home by yourself with no extra equipment.
Opternative could solve a huge problem for online eyewear retailers. Prescriptions are only valid for a year, so if a glasses site’s potential customers haven’t been to an eye doctor lately, they can’t get the right specs. Lee tells me Opternative is working on partnerships with these companies so they send customers to the startup, and get sent back the prescriptions.
Eventually, Opternative hopes to use its technology for social good, unlocking cheap eye exams for the developing world. It’s also building out a touch screen kiosk that could fit inside physical eyewear stores.
Seeing clearly can help people learn, work and enjoy life. And as the world shifts toward the information and knowledge economy, the value increases. Making accurate vision more accessible just took one bright eyedea.
Opternative is now approved for online eye exams in 27 states.
[Image Credit: Alvin Trusty]