Online Medical Devices: Sacrificing Safety for Price

In this fast-paced age of the Internet and instant information it can become easy to overlook safety when buying medical devices online. Yes the internet makes it more convenient for us to purchase items, but is buying something online always better? Are there ever circumstances where sacrifice must be made for convenience and price?

The eyewear industry much like many other industries has been greatly affected by the Internet age. The difference is glasses are a medical device which should be obtained with a prescription from a regulated professional. It’s one thing buying a new pair of shoes online. It’s a whole other thing purchasing a customized medical device online especially when that device can mean the difference between seeing trouble on the road ahead or not.

There is a lot more to a glasses prescription than just the numbers. The prescription you get from your optometrist is contingent on various measurements. If these measurements are off even slightly, and the eye is not looking through the perfect optical center of the glasses, eyestrain, headaches, and most importantly distorted and sub-par vision can occur.

Online glasses companies do not take into account these important measurements. In fact, a study done by Pacific University College of Optometry in 2011 evaluated 154 pairs of spectacles from 10 popular online glasses vendors. Of these glasses, 28.6% (1 in 4 glasses) failed a tolerance standard for at least 1 optical parameter and 22.7% failed impact resistance testing. If this is the case, why are we still buying glasses online? There are two reasons: price and convenience. But have you ever stopped to think why it is that online glasses are so inexpensive?

When glasses are purchased at your local optometrist office, various measurements are taken including the tilt of the glasses when they are sitting on your face (pantoscopic tilt), the distance between the pupils (interpupillary distance)—which changes depending on whether you are looking in the distance or up close—the distance of the lens to your eyes (vertex distance) and how high your eyes sit when the frame is on your face (segment height). Your optometrist will take all these measurements into account when they design lenses for you to ensure clear and non-distorted vision. Except for the interpupillary distance, online optical do not take into account these important measurements.

Once the lenses are ordered and verified by the regulated professional, the glasses are then fitted to the patient based on the measurements taken earlier. By not using regulated health professionals to verify and adjust the glasses, online glasses companies are able to skip these crucial safeguards which allows them to charge much less for their product.

Again we return to the question, is buying online worth the price and convenience? Most people wouldn’t dream of buying a specialized medical device such as a customized hearing aid or customized knee brace online, so then why are we buying a customized optical devices online?


By: Dr. Thomas-A. Noël, B.Sc., O.D. & Dr. John-Paul Muggeridge, B.Sc., O.D