You could get your next glasses prescription without a visit to the eye doctor

Image: warby parker

Going to the eye doctor is one of those yearly errands I always dread. I like my eye doctor well enough and, no, I don’t have some eye-related phobia I just really, really, dislike the whole process.

Getting an appointment can take weeks, or even months. Inevitably, I’ll have to go in the middle of a workday, and appointments always take far longer than they’re supposed to. That’s partly because, before I can even see my doctor, I have to listen to a series of aggressive pitches on the relative merits of a handful of additional tests and procedures I don’t really need but are, conveniently, both expensive and not covered by my insurance.

At least, that’s how the process usually goes for me.

So when I heard that Warby Parker was testing a new service that lets you take an at-home vision test using just your phone and laptop, I knew I wanted to try it.

Called Prescription Check, the program is currently limited to people in a few states California, Virginia, Florida and New York who already have a pair of Warby Parker glasses. I happen to fit both requirements.

I downloaded the Prescription Check app (which, sorry Android users, is iPhone only for now) and kicked the test off by logging in to my existing account. The check then starts with a series of pretty standard questions asked by a bot, of course about your eye health history and when your eyes were last examined IRL.

The initial questionnaire.

Image: prescription check app

Assuming you qualify based on those answers (the company notes Prescription Check is not intended to replace a regular eye exam, so if it’s been too long, or if you have other complicating factors, it won’t let you continue), you can start the actual exam.

The test itself uses a combination of your computer and phone, with the phone acting as a kind of remote to advance the test on the screen.

You calibrate the desktop portion first by holding a credit card up to your screen and dragging an on-screen box around the card. A series of black and white boxes then appear on the screen, at which point the Prescription Check app launches a camera. You’re then instructed to hold your iPhone out in front of you while walking slowly backwards until you’re 12 feet away from the screen.

Image: warby parker

It sounds complicated, but it only took about a minute once I set my laptop up far enough to be able to get 12 feet away.

Throughout the test, your iPhone acts as a kind of remote control: You navigate questions and tests that appear on your computer by swiping on your phone screen with the in-app camera on at all times to ensure you remain at the correct distance.

This means you must keep holding up your phone at the same level throughout the test as this is how the app makes sure you’re standing at the correct distance (you’re prompted to re-calibrate if you move.)

Image: warby parker

It’s actually a pretty clever system that works surprisingly well though I had a few issues. Getting the hang of navigating the onscreen commands with your smartphone while you’re looking at a different screen can be challenging.

After one test, I mean to hit “yes,” but I accidentally selected “no.” There was no way to go back and change my answer.

Later, when I got to the main part of the check, which tests your nearsightedness, I found the test awkward. The test requires you to cover one eye and, using the other hand that’s keeping the phone raised at chest level exactly 12 feet away from the computer, swipe in different directions on your screen that correspond to rows of “c” symbols.

Image: warby parker

I also had to redo a couple of tests because, at one point, my computer’s display dimmed.

Technical issues aside, what’s more difficult to get used to is completing a vision test without any kind of feedback. The app does guide you through the process step-by-step, but it’s pretty minimal compared with the typical back-and-forth “is 1 better, or 2 better?” fussing around that usually happens during eye exams.

The company importantly notes that Prescription Check is really designed for those who need an updated prescription but whose vision has not changed, so it’s not meant to completely replace your normal exam with a doctor. And Warby Parker does have an actual doctor evaluate your results before handing over a prescription.

In the end, I wasn’t able to successfully get a new prescription. “I think it would be best for you to visit an eye doctor in person for a comprehensive exam,” read a note that came the next morning. I expected as much, though, given that I knew my vision had changed slightly since I first got my glasses two years ago.

So even though I’ll need to make another trip to the dreaded eye doctor for now, hopefully next year I won’t have to.

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