Deciding whether to incorporate in-office lens finishing

November 15, 2011

More ophthalmologists are looking into bringing the process of cutting and polishing a lens for fitting into an eyeglass frame on-site, in a dedicated area of practice.

When it came to finishing spectacle lenses in-office, Kat Carroll made a believer out of her manager, ophthalmologist Mark Helm, MD. The experienced optician came to the practice 2 years ago as a big proponent of edging lenses on-site.

"I had been finishing single-vision prescriptions at the practices where I worked before," Carroll said. "I really believe that it makes sense for a busy practice."

Based on Carroll's endorsement, Dr. Helm, owner of Helm Eye Center in Steamboat Springs, CO, purchased an in-office finishing system soon after her arrival-and the decision has already proved its worth.

Carroll and Dr. Helm aren't alone. More and more ophthalmologists are looking into bringing the process of cutting and polishing a lens for fitting into an eyeglass frame on-site, in a dedicated area of their practice, usually in a back room near their optical dispensary.

The technology in and of itself is nothing new. Eye-care professionals have been finishing lenses on-site for more than 25 years. But digital technology and software upgrades have made the equipment more powerful and user friendly, and recent changes by third-party insurance providers have made the idea of in-office finishing more financially viable for many ophthalmologists.

Finishing systems-which include a tracer, a blocker, and an edger-can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $70,000, depending on the model and the capabilities offered. Most of the systems available today run with on-board computers, meaning they offer push-button operation. They use roughly the same amount of electricity as any ophthalmic instrument in your practice, and take up very little space (usually a 3- by 3-foot area will be sufficient).

Of course, the cost of the equipment isn't the only consideration. An in-office finishing lab requires someone to operate the equipment. Most practices that finish in-office have an optician on staff to run the lab.

Edgers on the market today are tabletop designs, as are their accompanying tracers and blockers. Some systems are fully integrated, with tracers, blockers, and edgers all in one unit; for others, the three elements are separate. All three are required for in-office finishing. Simply put, the tracer is needed to trace the frame shape and provide a template for which the lens will be cut; the blocker ensures that blocks are accurately attached to the lens so that the lens can be cut.

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