Dear Ms. Specs,
It is not unusual for people who have purchased glasses online or from other practices to come to us for adjustments and repairs. We want to help but are concerned that we may accidentally break or scratch glasses that weren’t purchased from us. What is the ethical thing to do?

Perplexed in Peoria

Dear Perplexed,

Thank you for your excellent question! Yes, this scenario is more prevalent than ever before. Ethically, I believe that we should strive to be helpful in all situations. When prescription eyewear does not fit well, not only does it feel uncomfortable, but it also can limit the best optics/visual experience possible for the wearer. If the person before us in need of an adjustment or repair did not purchase the eyewear from us, we have two choices:

  1. Refuse to adjust or repair their prescription eyeglasses and send them off.
  2. Offer this valuable service with boundaries.

If you choose to offer help with boundaries, here are some tips:

Explain to the patient that you are dedicated to helping them. Let them know that the quality of frames varies quite a bit, and you will do your best to inspect them. It’s wise to add a caveat such as, “Mrs. Jones, do you know if this frame will be under warranty should it break? I would hate for you to be stuck.”

Then inspect them: Check the type of plastic, and study the hinges and nosepad components. Be sure to use pliers on all metal components, and heat the acetate properly. If the frame is of decent quality, it should sustain our slight adjustments with ease. If the frame is poor quality, it will likely break. Please note: I am talking about new frames. Ms. Specs does not advocate adjusting a patient’s very old frame, especially if there is oxidation… way too risky.

Sometimes they break. It happens. It’s OK. Let me share a story:

On occasion, I will have a friend over who needs an eyeglass adjustment. Just like you, I have limited tools at home and rely on using a hair dryer or my personal preference—super-hot water to bend the plastic. The ultimate kitchen optical dispensary!

I inspected my friend’s daughter’s frames, and they appeared to be OK. I was able to bend the plastic without a problem after heating them. As soon as I attempted to add a little pantoscopic tilt, the hinge broke. My friend and her daughter gasped. Without hesitation, and with professional confidence, I noted that the frame was super poor quality and should not have broken with such a slight adjustment. Her daughter stated that she bought them from XYZ inexpensive online optical. I assured her that she should notify them, and they will give her a refund, which they did. She then went to a local optical business and purchased eyewear that she loves. Yes, she paid more, but she learned to appreciate the differences.

Scratching is another story. The key is to protect the frame and the lenses with a cloth during all adjustments… scratching will not occur if we protect all the surrounding areas while adjusting or repairing.

With that said, let me be perfectly clear: Ms. Specs understands that our skills have value, and we do not work for free. While adjusting or repairing the frame, should the patient ask the cost, I would suggest replying with something like this: “Mrs. Jones, thank you for offering to pay. Yes, this service has value.” (Not for the 15 minutes that it takes, but for the years of education, practice and experience that led up to the 15 minutes). The part in parentheses is for us, certainly not to say to the patient! Continue the conversation with: “Mrs. Jones, in lieu of a fee, I would ask you to donate to our optical charity. No amount is too small or too large.” (Show her the donation box/jar).

If I were in practice, I would choose a charity that brought access to eye exams and eyeglasses to local children in need. At the end of the day, the brief time it takes us to work our optical magic will greatly help another in need. It is not a money maker, but the feel-good vibe of helping another never goes out of fashion. It is a win-win.

So, Dear Optical Readers, no matter which option you choose, do it with good intentions and integrity.

Until Next Time,
See Well and Be Well,
Ms. Specs in the City
Laurie Pierce, ABOM

Do you have a question for Ms. Specs? Please send your question to [email protected], and we may feature it in a future column.