Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, countless industries have been forced to shift the way they do business. Healthcare, for example, saw a major swing in the virtual direction as a precautionary measure to keep patients out of enclosed public spaces and promote social distancing. Optometry was one such impacted field, forced to move in a digital direction. 

CivicScience asked more than 5,700 U.S. adults about their experience with tele-optometry for eye exams and general optometric care. As the data show, the vast majority of U.S. adults have either not heard of this service or are not interested.

While still a small percentage, users and intenders of virtual services are a little more clear when just looking at those who have heard of such services being available.

The data show that those who are not working or getting paid are the most likely to have taken advantage of tele-optometry appointments. Those who are working remotely are the most likely to intend to do so. 

However, one thing we know about users and intenders of tele-optometry services is that they strongly correlate with those who have tried or intend to try blue light blocking glasses. 

Clearly, a combination of being at home and lots of screen time could sway some Americans in favor of a virtual eye exam. 

Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

To be sure, interest and experience are very different things. Among the small group who have recently had a virtual appointment, 78% walked away satisfied.

But, specifically looking at eye exams, the verdict is clear: those who visit the optometrist don’t think virtual exams are of equal quality to in-person exams.

Age is closely correlated with virtual eye exam experience. Younger adults are more likely to have had a virtual eye exam and to believe a virtual is just as good as an in-person.

Purchasing glasses online has been around for a while and is much more liked by people in general. But the data show that interest and usage have barely fluctuated amidst the pandemic, so the data hasn’t shown an influx of new online glasses orderers. 

Blue light glasses were again a relevant data point: those who have experience with online prescription glasses retailers are also the most likely users and intenders for blue light blocking glasses. 

Glasses vs. Contacts

The general perspective on ordering glasses and contacts online, among those who have done it, is hopeful. Forty-five percent of respondents felt positive about ordering their glasses online, while 41% felt the same about their contacts.

That said, experience with virtual general optometry appointments and virtual contacts exams have garnered varying responses. While 43% of U.S. adults had a positive experience, only 25% felt the same about their contact exam. 

In the world of virtual optometry, opinions are mixed. As it stands, virtual appointments are convenient for younger adults and those who may be spending more time at home–whether due to a lack of work or a remote working situation. Virtual appointments also garner a positive response from those seeking general optometry care. But when it comes to contacts, Americans are not as pleased. And while online prescription retailers are a clear choice for some, interest has not been dramatically impacted by the need for social distancing, suggesting that many Americans may be holding a vision of the in-person eye exam as a continued hope for the future.