Warby Parker has developed a new Prescription Check app that allows consumers to self-administer an eye test through their smartphone and computer. The results can then be reviewed remotely by an eye doctor who can provide a prescription, the company announced in a video on its web site.
The retailer currently is testing the app in four states — California, Florida, New York and Virginia — where at this stage it is available only to existing Warby Parker customers between the ages of 18 and 40, according to TechCrunch. For now, those users are only able to confirm that a previous subscription is still correct. The app is not yet able to issue new prescriptions.
To administer the tests, a user stands back several feet from their computer screen and uses their smartphone camera dialed into the app to help them measure the correct distance from the screen. Then, the user follows instructions from the app to take the 20-minute test.
Warby Parker is emphasizing upfront that its Prescription Check app is not meant to replace or stand in for customers' regular eye doctor check-ups. That's an important admission for the retailer to make. While sales of prescription eye glasses are its core business, optometry and ophthalmology aren't — not yet anyway.
That admission, however, does little to soothe the American Optometric Association (AOA), which told Healthcare Dive via e-mail that it is against online and app-based vision testing by Warby Parker or anyone else. "When patients rely on an app for an eyeglass or contact lens prescription, they can receive inaccurate or misleading information and potentially delay essential sight saving treatment," the AOA stated. "An online eye test does not completely cover any one of the 12 components of a regular in-person, comprehensive eye exam. National agencies, including the National Eye Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agree that a comprehensive eye examination is the only way to know whether your eyes and vision are healthy."
But, for Warby Parker, the process of buying a new pair of glasses online with en existing prescription from any optometrist is fraught with friction, as customers may shop styles they are interested in, but then have to consult with their own eye doctor offline to actually get the prescription for Warby Parker to use to make the glasses.
The retailer does have several dozen physical retail stores where customers can go in and have their prescriptions checked, and it's rapidly expanding its brick-and-mortar presence, but its existing stores can serve only a very small portion of the addressable market for a retailer primarily focused on online sales. For now, most of its customers likely still attend brick-and-mortar stores with an in-house optometrist to get their eyes checked there, and then return to Warby Parker to buy glasses. But that leaves a lot of room for the customer to buy glasses elsewhere.
Warby Parker's new feature, to some extent, is an attempt to streamline its own purchasing process for its customers, but it is also trying to keep them from ending up in another venue where they might end up by glasses. If the retailer releases this app on a wider basis and allows customer to start using it to obtain new or updated prescriptions, the retailer could be on to a new source of growth.
However, it also appears to be stepping into a major controversy. As the AOA further stated, "The progressive answer to eye and vision health care is not to focus on being the next big consumer brand or app. Instead, innovators need to focus on delivering tools that help advance patient care, because “virtual” care is no substitute for actual healthcare."