Pre-made reading glasses have become a convenient, reasonably priced alternative for many consumers who either feel they need, or actually require, a simple magnification for their vision correction. They are sold everywhere from mass-merchandisers to grocery stores, drug stores and the Internet. “Readers only” specialty stores are opening up all over the country. There are even eyeglass kiosks that provide instructions for the patients to self-refract at a unit built into the kiosk.
Why has the retail industry jumped on the bandwagon so eagerly? Because the credo for success in business is, “find a need and fill it.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 73 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. who either already are, or are about to become presbyopes. These people were raised on the growth of faster service and more convenience in every facet of their lives. Over-the-counter (OTC) readers have taken fast eyewear to the next level. They offer instant gratification and are economical. Patients need not spend time waiting for lenses to be made or spend money on an eye exam.
Similarly, professional associations are split on the question of readers. The American Academy of Ophthalmology, while endorsing the need for routine eye exams, finds no problem with the use of OTC eyewear, as the readers can do no damage, even if the wrong prescription is selected. The American Optometric Association has issued some suggestions to patients on how to compare customized glasses to the over-the-counter versions. However, the Opticians Association of America has been strongly opposed to the sale of prefabricated readers with powers over +2.00D and would like to see warning labels on the products.
Yet with profit margins shrinking for many ECPs, the time may be right for them to re-examine whether there is a place for OTC readers in their dispensaries. According to the VisionWatch, an Internet-based consumer study conducted by Jobson Publishing/Vision Council of America, this need for speed has resulted in over 31 million pairs of pre-fab readers being sold in 2004, at an average price of $14.02. That’s over $438 million a year in sales.
Non-optical retailers are selling most of those prefabricated readers. Although some eyecare professionals sell readers, others are reluctant or even opposed to doing it. They cite the poor quality of some pre-fab readers and the tendency of some consumers to purchase readers without first having a professional eye exam.
Satisfying Patient Needs
Certainly, the main business objective of any practitioner is to retain as many patients as possible. The main ethical objective is to provide the patients with the best care. The practice that offers OTC readers can contribute to both objectives. If it is known that a dispensary is selling them, consumers, who would normally go to a drug store might be better served purchasing the glasses from a professional who can help select the appropriate magnification power. Patients perceive a sense of honesty in the practitioner who offers every option, regardless of expense, or lack of expenses, for that matter.
Once the patient comes through the door, the opportunity is there to educate them. Of primary importance is to emphasize the need for a formal examination to detect age-related conditions such as cataracts or glaucoma. If the patient purchases their Rx in a discount store, problems much more serious than selecting the wrong power will be missed.
Making a Judgment Call
Once a true prescription is determined, an eyecare professional should suggest appropriate corrective lenses. If a patient requires an O.U. Rx and has no significant cylinder power, it would be fair to have available good quality OTC readers for them to try. There are prefabricated readers combining ophthalmic quality lenses and frames. By being aware of the PDs in the selection being carried, unwanted prism can be avoided. By inventorying better quality readers, it can be illustrated to the patient how they would benefit by choosing them, rather than the drugstore versions. Most certainly, the better readers also can offer more fashionable and desirable styles.
Of course, if the patient is anisometropic or astigmatic, the ECP can explain why they would not be properly corrected in anything other than custom-made lenses. Patients should understand that only glasses made specifically for them can incorporate the properly fitting frame with correctly ground and centered lenses. Maintaining an inventory of attractive half-eye frames will satisfy and entice the patient that was only thinking in terms of a basic pair of glasses.
In addition to the premium single-vision lenses that can be used for custom-made reading glasses, several major progressive lens manufacturers have enhanced their lens lines by designing lenses that offer graduated intermediate and near-variable focal lengths. These lenses, which are optimized for computer use, provide far more range of vision than a single-vision lens and can be sold as a package with over-the-counter readers.
After selecting a pair of premium lenses, a patient would be pleased to hear they can utilize the prefabricated readers as spare pairs to leave around the home, car or office for temporary or emergency use. Packaging together both approaches to reading prescriptions benefits the practitioner as well as the patient. L&T
Vicki B. Masliah is director of professional education for Hirsch Optical, an independent wholesale laboratory in Farmingdale, N.Y.
L&T basics - getting a read on readers
L&T asked five eyecare professionals whether they dispense pre-fabricated readers and how these products fit into their product mix.
Mary Lou Schatan of Schatan Optical Gallery, Torrance, Calif.
“I think pre-made readers are an absolute necessity for any optical store, especially if they are selling contact lenses. By virtue of our professional location, patients feel comfortable that the quality of the readers can be assured. The models we offer are fashionable, holding no similarity to the drug store versions. Color holds some importance, not just for the fashion, but it also makes them easier to spot, so they’re not left behind somewhere. Because we keep them at a reasonable price point, patients will often buy multiple pairs.”
Jean Stone, OD of Stone Vision Center, Greers Ferry, Ark.
“We do sell some ready made readers. If all the patient needs is readers, I feel comfortable recommending them in lieu of ground single vision or bifocal glasses. It can certainly help in the way of cost efficiency. By providing readers here, we can control their quality and appropriateness for the patient. We offer a few choices of readers and, of course, do not discourage patients from choosing ophthalmic frames and lenses”
Bob Schreiber of American Eyewear, Dallas, Texas
“We find very little call for the pre-made readers. Much of our eyewear is higher end. That patient is looking for more customized glasses and we encourage them to select higher performance lenses, with the benefits of premium products. We do keep a few pre-fab readers at a reasonable price point, so the patient can have a quick pick-up in a pinch. Generally, the patient interested in OTC readers tends to look for them in grocery stores or readers stores.”
Richard Glisker of World of Vision, Vero Beach, Fla.
“We do make some pre-made readers available, but most of the time we’ll wait for the patient to ask for them. Most often, they’re sold in combination with contact lenses. We carry a nice selection of ophthalmic frames. As a result, patients can select a very reasonably priced frame, we even have some on sale, and have lenses cut that are specific to their prescription and PD. Their cost wouldn’t be significantly different from the OTC glasses, yet they can be assured of the optical quality.”
Edward Maslansky, OD of Middletown, N.J.
“It’s not like OTC glasses don’t provide some effectiveness, but every patient that requires reading glasses benefits from the optical quality inherent in glasses made specifically for them. Patients who have differing prescriptions or are astigmatic, are not well served by pre-made glasses. Also, the higher the power, the more critical is the PD. The quality of the frame is also a factor. An ophthalmic quality frame is a more economical investment. The ready-mades often do not hold up as well, so the dollars saved up front are lost in the need for multiple replacements. More important than all of those issues, though, is concern for the eye health of the patient. If they feel they can bypass the professional exam by purchasing glasses in the supermarket, potential health problems, such as glaucoma, could go undiagnosed.”