Five steps to the high quality/reasonable cost eyeglasses your patients-and you-deserve

June 15, 2008

A five-step policy can help ensure that the eyeglasses your patients receive meet or exceed industry standards: (1) adopt an aggressive quality standard; (2) implement a rigorous quality assurance program; (3) inform customers; (4) report the results; and (5) have the dispensary's manager report regularly on the results of the quality testing.

ABC TV's "Good Morning America" ran an investigative report (Nov. 5) that evaluated the quality of prescription eyeglasses sold at major national chain stores.

A reporter from the ABC affiliate in Fort Worth, TX, purchased six pairs of eyeglasses from national chains, then had a panel of three optometrists analyze the glasses. The panel found that the eyeglasses had "a variety of defects" and consequently failed four of the six pairs for not meeting accepted industry standards (ANSI Z80-1). The reporter then took a prescription for bifocals and purchased four more pairs from four separate chains. On inspection, the panel failed three of four pairs for a variety of reasons ranging from technical problems with key measurements to lenses made with a different material than what the doctor ordered.

There are obvious problems with the Fort Worth investigative report. To begin with, the sample of eyeglasses purchased was very small, which could make the results look dramatically better or worse than what is true in the marketplace. Second, the report included only eyeglasses purchased from chain stores; none were purchased from independent MDs or ODs.

The implications of these reports are staggering. Is it possible that 50% of the eyeglasses delivered to customers in the United States are defective in some way or not appropriate for the patients who wear them? Possibly. My experience is that the number is not quite as high as 50%, yet it is high.

The question is, why?

The answer may lie in the term "industry standards." Although promulgated by a reliable group, adherence to the ANSI Z80-1 standards is voluntary. That means the ophthalmic professionals who make and sell eyeglasses are not legally bound to the standards; they are not subject to sanctions or penalties. In addition, neither the government nor the professions conduct any periodic audits to assure compliance with the standards. Since people have a tendency to respect those aspects of their work life that are regularly inspected, it is not surprising that optical product quality is not as high as it could be.

As a dispensing ophthalmologist, what should you do to assure that the eyeglasses your patients receive meet or exceed the industry standards?