I got a new contact lens prescription without having to set foot in a doctor's office. Here's what it was like.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

My supply of daily contacts was dwindling.

But this time, instead of setting up an eye exam to get a new prescription, I decided to try something new: an online contact lens exam.

I’ve always found it to be really hands-on when I go in to the eye doctor to get my prescription updated. I usually try on sets of contacts to make sure they feel OK, and the equipment used to test my vision seems to be important to getting the prescription. With that in mind, I was curious to see how it could be done remotely.


Read more: We tried out 7 startups that claim to make it easier and cheaper to go to the doctor. Some fell short of the hype.

So on April 8, I went to Simple Contacts’ website. I had met founder and CEO Joel Wish at an event last summer, and I had been curious to understand the new model of using telemedicine to do a contact lens check and get a new prescription. The test, taken via an app on my phone would cost me $US20, I was informed.

Booting up the app, I realised I didn’t have to put in a password. I was signed on based on the phone number and email I gave.

To start, I needed to get my old, expired prescription from my eye doctor. A phone call took care of that, and my prescription was soon in my inbox. I plugged in the expired prescription into the app. From there I got started with the exam, which asked me questions about my health, how I was seeing, and whether my contacts were uncomfortable. The app played video clips of a doctor who gave me instructions throughout the exam.

Via Simple Contacts

Truth be told, I’m so used to my vision worsening, I expected to be turned away. Bharat Ayyar, Simple Contacts’ general manager, told me that a lot of users don’t get a prescription: either they don’t hit the criteria, it seems like their visions worsened, or it seems like they could benefit from an in-person visit.

via Simple Contacts

First the test asked me to hold the phone close to my face with my contacts in. The goal is to examine if there’s anything wrong with my eyes that might disqualify me from taking the test, for instance, if I had a visible eye infection.

Then I was asked to set up a few feet away from my phone and turn on my microphone and camera. I was asked to read off lines of text like I might at my doctor’s office.

Screenshot via Simple ContactsAs part of the prescription check, I had to activate audio and visuals, which was a bit tricky to do at the office.

Kate Garber, chief of staff of Simple Health, the company that operates Simple Contacts, told Business Insider that the decision to record the eye exam – rather than have me click through as I had for the Warby Parker test – came at the advice of the company’s medical advisory board.

“We made a decision to have a recorded eye exam to look at the contact on the eye,” Garber said. “We really want to see it and watch you take the exam.”

Even so, some optometrists don’t support the online tests. The American Optometric Association, which represents optometrists, recommends that people who use eyeglasses or contacts get their eyes checked once a year. The organisation says that virtual prescriptions checks aren’t a good idea, because people might forgo more comprehensive checkups.


Read more: We got a new eyeglass prescription for $US40 at Warby Parker without stepping foot in a doctor’s office. Here’s what it was like.

For contact lens exams in particular, Pierce said, he’s concerned about seeing people trying to self-diagnose by saying they need a stronger prescription than they need or possibly changing contact lens brands.

For instance, when I put in my expired contact lens prescription, I filled in the numbers myself. Online contact lens sellers have run into this before: Quartz highlighted an instance in which a reporter obtained contact lenses without a valid prescription.

Ayyar said that Simple Contacts does its best to catch mistakes when people make them. The users still have to pass the vision test using their current prescription. “Entering the wrong prescription (mistakenly or intentionally) won’t help you pass,” Ayyar said. If someone accidentally enters their prescription wrong, and they get sent the wrong contacts, they tend to notice quickly because they can’t see as well, Ayyar said. At that point, Simple Contacts works with them to get them the right contacts.

Contact lensesHollis Johnson/Business Insider

My contacts arrived about a week after I took the test.

The package ended up being cheaper than the last time I bought contacts. Last time I bought a year’s supply, I spent more than $US900. This time, it was $US776.

I learned after the fact that it would have cost a lot more than $US20 to do a contact lens fitting at an eye doctor’s office. A representative from my insurer said she’d seen people pay anywhere from $US30 to $US200 for a fitting.

I should probably still go in for an eye exam, but this was nice as a way to stretch out my older visit. I know it’s inconvenient and expensive to go in person, but it’s probably worth it to be super sure I have the right set of contacts in.

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