Last week I came across a Facebook advert for online retailer Mister Spex. Nothing unusual about that, it’s a fairly successful business in the UK and several other countries across Europe. However, a second look, gave me cause for concern, as the advert mentioned an ‘online eye test’. After some digging, it became clear the service wasn’t actually available in the UK. But that doesn’t mean the sector shouldn’t be worried, because it will be here very soon.

There are a couple of aspects that worry me about online refraction, and some would argue that both of them are based on protectionism. The first, is how the tests are marketed. In the Mister Spex FAQ, one of the questions says: ‘Does the online eye test replace a visit to the opticians?’ The answer? ‘In certain cases, yes.’ I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that an online refraction cannot replace a trip to an optometrist or optician in any circumstances.

The second worrying aspect relates to who the communication talks to – a demographic of young online shoppers who could very conceivably think that these refractions do replace
a trip to the optometrist. Are we going to end up with a generation of twenty-somethings who are no longer in the eye care loop? Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but we will have a generation for whom a trip to see an optometrist might seem like an outdated concept.

If you’re thinking that the issue will be regulated away, think again. To my mind, online refraction isn’t on the General Optical Council’s radar, but it needs to have a strategy. We’ve seen the jurisdiction issues it has with the supply of contact lenses from abroad, so it’s important this issue isn’t overlooked during a phase when there can be some influence. In the short-to-medium term, optometrists and dispensing opticians would do well to decide whether they feel comfortable making spectacles to a prescription obtained from an online test.