5 Differences Between Online Eye Exams and In-Person Eye Exams

What a world we live in.

You can do just about anything on your phone these days: look up directions, order your groceries, deposit checks, and even use it to call people once in a blue. (who knew?!)

online eye exam - in-person eye exam man surprised

Aren’t our phones amazing?

So it might not come as a surprise to learn that you can also use them to renew your contact lens or glasses prescription with online eye exams.


All you need is a computer, a smart phone, and 20 minutes to renew your prescription from the comfort of your own home.

Anyone who’s ever run out of contacts knows what a life-saver this can be.

If you’ve ever needed to renew your prescription but didn’t need the full eye exam, then you know exactly why online eye exams were created.

But can you really get away with just using online eye exams forever? When should you choose one over the other?

Online Eye Exam or In-Person. Which Exam Do You Need?

An online eye exam fills the need for speed and convenience by automating much of the process and allowing you to take a vision test at home.

Online eye exams include a simple process: follow the directions on your smartphone, upload the information, and get a licensed eye care practitioner to review it before giving you your prescription.

But is the online vision exam a true replacement for in-person eye exams—and if not, what are the differences?

Here are 5 differences you should know before choosing which exam is right for you.

Difference #1: Time Investment

An in-person eye exam, even when relatively brief, will still take more time out of your day than a simple online vision exam.

That’s what Amber Brenza of Prevention.com discovered when she tried her first Opternative exam.

According to Brenza, the total invested time of this first online exam was about 25 minutes—comparable to the amount of time she spent making small talk with the eye-doctor. And, as Brenza notes, she didn’t have to leave home—or even change out of her pajamas.

online eye exam in pajamas

Because we all know pajama time is sacred.

There are reasons for this disparity in time investment, of course.

A true in-person eye exam involves the scrutiny of a skilled optometrist who can also help gauge how healthy your eyes are. They look for symptoms of other underlying problems —an online eye exam doesn’t have these features, therefore cutting down on time of travel and testing significantly.

Difference #2: Convenience

Simply put, you don’t always need to walk in an optometrist’s office to get a prescription updated.

True: an optometrist’s office is vital for checking up on the health of your eyes. But what if your check-up was recent enough that all you need now is a refill on your contact lenses? Or what if you need an updated pair of glasses before you go in for your full eye examination?

That’s where the convenience of an online vision exam comes in.

Handling an online vision exam from the comfort of your own home means that there are no waiting rooms, no idle chit-chat, no driving in the snow to get to the clinic, etc.

While this convenience might seem trivial at first, keep in mind that it all adds up. Add that to the cost—as you’ll find out in the next section—and you start to see the appeal of online vision exams in some cases.

Difference #3: Cost

Going to an eye exam isn’t only about how much time it will cost out of your day—it’s also about what it will take out of your pocket.

Truth be told, most eye exams today are reasonably-priced. According to Prevention.com, the “typical office eye exam can range from $50 to $250, depending on where you get it done and who performs it” when you go without insurance. That won’t exactly break the bank, especially when it comes to budgeting for your long-term eye health.

But that doesn’t mean you have that kind of cash laying around, either.

If you’ve recently had your eye health checked out and you still need a new eye test for a prescription, it may be more economical to simply use an online vision exam. Opternative’s prescription tests cost just $50-60.

As CNN notes, online vision tests aren’t a substitute for a full eye exam—but they can be helpful in obtaining prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses. Jacqueline Howard of CNN reported that the diagnostics for this prescription were identical between an online vision exam and an in-person vision examination.

This is known as “telemedicine”: the ability to conduct some routine tests without showing up in person. And while telemedicine is limited even in today’s digital environment, it can sometimes reduce costs without sacrificing any accuracy.

Difference #4: Comprehensiveness

Let’s be clear: the online vision test is not a substitute for a full vision exam.

online eye exam funny grandma

Remember to see a Doctor for health purposes!

An online vision test can be a convenient, helpful way to obtain the details needed for a prescription pair of glasses—but it requires a health professional’s personal touch if you want to know more about your eye health.

That means that the two exams aren’t mutually exclusive.

An in-person eye exam allows an optometrist to use the latest diagnostic equipment to have a look at the health of your eyes. And beyond that, optometrists can often use symptoms present in the eyes to diagnose other problems—high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.

The serious medical opinion of an experienced professional is something that won’t come in through the online vision exam, which is why it’s important to know when to use both.

Difference #5: Uses

When you consider the information above, why wouldn’t you always go in person for a full eye exam? Well, it depends on what you need.

If you simply need a refill on a contact lens prescription or need to update a pair of glasses, it’s possible to use Opternative to get a quick and convenient prescription.

If you need to have your eyes checked for your own personal health, there’s no substitute for the in-person experience of a licensed professional.

So Which Eye Exam is Right For Me?

While it may seem that we’re pitting the two types of exams against each other, the truth is that both are equally valid if they adequately address your needs. What matters right now is what’s troubling you.

Do you need a quick and convenient way to secure some new contact lenses for yourself? Great—an online vision exam will work.

Do you need a health checkup with a medical professional having a look at your eyes? Then an in-person exam is what you’ll want.

Just make sure you understand the differences between the two before you make your next eye exam decision!

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