Shocked and disappointed: Response to Channel 4 Supershoppers


The Channel 4 Supershopper episode this week, which came to my attention through the stir it caused in the industry has been alarming. Online glasses have been a subject of many debates in optics, as online shopping and prices begin to sweep the market.

Though many sites are offering cheap glasses, what the general public were not made aware of, is the safety requirements which come with any medical device. A representative of the College of Optometrists described the evolution of spectacles in the program, from a strictly medicinal tool to a fashion statement. This initial change, purely to encourage patients to wear their prescription.

Of course with any industry, where there is an opportunity for individuality and expression the demand for range and therefor a large market grew. If someone has the luxury to choose designer or 'prettier' more fashionable frames, then that is at the discretion of the patient; however, the bare minimum is the functionality, vision and safety.

It was shocking and almost offensive to see the disregard of the health, safety and legality of what the show illustrated. The art and science of dispensing spectacles alone is a fine one. Taking into account a patients' posture, prescription and even their dexterity to take the spectacles on and off.  Looking at the skin around their nose which supports the weight of the frame, which surprisingly causes discomfort to many patients. Intended use of the spectacles and most importantly, if the patient can see through the correct portion of the lens.

The meeting with a patient is invaluable; seeing how their bodies move, what their lifestyle involves and physically seeing their mannerisms all relate to the choice of frame and lens design. There are countless anecdotes of problems when there is a disconnect between the eye examining practice and the dispense (particularly for varifocals).

"If you do buy online, take care with varifocals, which can be more complex. It might be safer to get the opticians to do your lenses..."

The use of language is what shocked me the most. Varifocals are one of the most complex lenses to dispense and fitting them well comes with many hours of practise, on a case by case basis. There are so many facets to a varifocal and being just millimetres out on measurements can take vision from "20/20" to well below legal driving standard. Making the wearer and other drivers at risk on the road.

Children's spectacles by law must be fitted by a qualified professional, to try to undercut costs on this is simply dangerous and can cause irreversible loss of vision if not completed correctly. Our NHS subsidises the cost of children's frames for this reason. They are fashionable and we are even able to offer a choice of frames to an extent, which in itself is an amazing advance. Many of our older patients attending with grandchildren, note having to simply accept what they were given in the past.

"Quasi- apparently; but not really; seemingly"

The reason spectacles can be so expensive is because the cost of the eye exam has become so devalued. Optometrists train a minimum of 4 years to conduct a safe examination, but are somehow deemed to be duping their patients. It's something which can be extremely frustrating, given the number of health problems that can be detected in an eye test. Problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, tumours, lung cancer and could even preempting stokes. Our training and expertise are no longer charged from the examination itself, but from the products that are sold. If this was inverted, like our American colleagues, it would see the average eye exams alone costing £300 before any spectacles were discussed.

I am not discouraging saving money, finding cheaper alternatives or living within a budget. I agree and often revel in the satisfaction of finding a bargain; which of course for some is essential. What the program failed to highlight is the safety of online spectacles.

It is never all doom and gloom however, as the industry moves away from this commercial aspect and move more towards its rightful place as a medical discipline. As hospitals become inundated with patients, more treatments are available in the community. With Optometrists upskilling and taking on further qualifications, emergency cases can be seen and even hospital medications prescribed. The advance of technology also means we're able to detect diseases earlier, with research in retinal scanning for early dementia detection. I genuinely hope this movement will help renew the public perception of Optometry as a beautiful tool for both good healthcare and good vision.

A rebuttal from the College of Optometrist, Click Here.

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