Optometrists- big chains or solo practitioner?
December 1, 2005 5:46 PM   Subscribe

When shopping around for an optometrist, is it better to go to a solo practitioner, or a national chain (i.e. Pearle Vision, LensCrafters)? Which do you prefer, and why?

I recently moved to a new area, and am currently looking for a new eye doctor. In the past, I've always gone to either Pearle Vision or Lens Crafters and had pretty average experiences at both. I'm now thinking of switching to a solo practitioner, but I have a few questions:

1) I'm getting re-fitted for contact lenses, and the last time I did this, I had to go through several brands before I found the right type for my astigmatism. This was at Pearle Vision, and they had no problem with letting me test-drive several pairs over the course of a few weeks. Do optometrists operating their own practices also allow their patients to do this? Or is this something that only the big chains offer?

2) How does one find a good optometrist, especially if you're new to the area?

3) I don't currently have a vision plan, and will be paying for this with my credit card. Am I likely to experience a big difference in costs, if I see a solo practitioner rather than someone at one of the chains?

Thanks in advance to everyone:-)
posted by invisible ink to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Never have been to an optometrist, I always use my opthamologist and my insurance pays with no hassle. An opthamologist is so much better anyway!
posted by raildr at 6:01 PM on December 1, 2005

I would go to someone in private practice, just to avoid conflicts of interest. But someone affiliated with a store selling eyeglasses would probably be cheaper, since sometimes those places actually do your exam free if you buy your glasses (and presumably contacts) from that store.
posted by duck at 6:02 PM on December 1, 2005

I wear glasses, not contacts, so YMMV:
1) Every optometrist should offer this. If they don't, they're probably shady shady shady. Part of getting contacts is finding the right fit.

2) Ask your friends and coworkers (who probably all wear contacts, now-a-days).

3) Yes, it will be more expensive - generally around $350 for exam, lenses, and frames at a private place vs. around $100 at PearleVision. Of course, when I had a problem, it was much easier to get service at the private practice - they scheduled me in right away, and got me free lenses when mine cracked after a year.
posted by muddgirl at 6:13 PM on December 1, 2005

If you go to an optometrist in private practice, you should still buy your glasses/contacts at the chain once you get your prescription. They will probably be cheaper there.
posted by duck at 6:19 PM on December 1, 2005

I would definitely go to an optomotrist/opthamologist at a private practice, and establish a rapport. Much better than lens crafters (and probabaly the same contact lens choices -- glasses are diff story).

I just got contacts for the first time, and I have torric (sp?) lenses. Maybe mention that to your opt. and they have an almost invisible line on the bottom to help orient it in my eye. It's not too bad, but I still prefer glasses because they are more convenient with my study-heavy lifestyle.
posted by ruwan at 6:24 PM on December 1, 2005

I don't know if this is of any assistance, but I've always wrestled the paper prescription from the doctor and bought my glasses online for a fraction of the cost. I would try on frames and then buy a pair online that looked similar to the ones I thought looked best on me.
posted by sian at 7:03 PM on December 1, 2005

I've found that going to a chain I just get a brief 10 minute exam to check my vision & prescribe lenses. If I go to an optometrist, I'm more likely to get a more specialized exam that might include testing my intra ocular pressure, field of vision etc. I've also been to a clinic at a teaching university and they pull out all the stops and do a 90 minute exam which covers all bases. Do bear in mind that many non-ocular illnesses (eg diabetes) can be diagnosed from a thorough eye exam (this is a large part of optometry training), so I always reckon it's worth spending a little more time and money when it's time for a checkup.

On preview: if money is your only concern then (in the UK at least) the prescription is yours and you have every right to it so yes you can go ahead and do as sian does, but I agree with ruwan - a good eye doctor is your friend, definitely worth someone having a rapport with.
posted by forallmankind at 7:30 PM on December 1, 2005

I've got glasses, contacts, astigmatism, and have had retina problems, so I've seen a wide variety of eye folks. Find a good solo practitioner but don't think it eliminates conflicts -- they sell stuff too -- it's just that solo or small group docs are likely to be more experienced.

1) My eye doc runs me through several pair before we settle on torics that fit, don't rotate too much, and so on. Only pay for the final pair.

2) Ask around (co-workers, friends). Don't feel like you're stuck with someone if you're not comfortable. Ask the doctor lots of questions. If s/he seems irritated, find someone else.

3) Solo is likely to get you higher prices but better service and attention. You get what you pay for.
posted by mumeishi at 8:02 PM on December 1, 2005

Disclaimer: I've got family in the business.

You'll get cheaper glasses at a chain (there are regional chains which are a bit less McDonaldsy than LensCrafters, but with similar prices and deals). If you've got an unusual prescription or other eye issues, you'd probably be better off with a solo practitioner.

At a chain store in California they typically contract with optomitrists and enroll you in a mini HMO in order to enable you to get cheap/free eye exams. I don't think solo practitioners can match that.

Regardless of where you go, you are entitled to a copy of your prescription in order to buy glasses/contacts somewhere else. Once you find a good set of contacts, you'll get better pricing from 1800Contacts and similar companies. Federal law makes it easier to deal through mail order companies, as doctors don't have much power to block them (e.g., by ignoring requests for prescriptions).
posted by i love cheese at 8:13 PM on December 1, 2005

The optometrist I go to is located next door to a Lenscrafters, but it is totally separate business with about 4 optometrists. I originally picked them because a friend referred me and it was in my neighborhood. I mostly wear contacts and that office gets me what at need at prices within $1/box of 800contacts. In fact, most of the customers I see in there go in for contacts. I've actually never gone to the Lenscrafter place next door. Whenever I've needed glasses for wearing around the house, I'll go to wherever my insurance company will get me the best deal.

Anyone prescribing contacts will let you test drive brands until you find the right fit... and that should be built into the cost quoted for contact lens fitting.
posted by birdherder at 8:53 PM on December 1, 2005

I've never been to a chain store for an eye exam, so I'm not sure how thorough they are, but I'd like to back up forallmankind's point about non-ocular illnesses: my father's brain tumor was discovered at an eye exam when the ophthalmologist detected unusual pressure on the optic nerve. A thorough exam is worth the time and money.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:54 PM on December 1, 2005

I've had eye exams every other year (or every year recently) for the past 25 years or so. I had them at the chain places and from private practice, optometrists and ophthalmologists. I've had much better experiences at private practices. Whoever you go to you want to be sure they do an ocular pressure test, and that they also dilate your pupils and do a thorough retina check.

I think if your insurance (eventually) covers an eye exam at an ophthalmologist or if you know you have problems that an optometrist is going to refer to for anyway then it's probably worth going to an ophthalmologist. Otherwise the private practice optometrists I've been too have been really good and thorough. I'm pretty confident they'd be able to detect a problem as well as an ophthalmologist would.

Hmmm...ophthalmologist. I think I've always spelled that wrong.
posted by sevenless at 12:03 AM on December 2, 2005

Over the years, I've gone to several independent practitioners to get contact lens. The norm is that they don't charge extra if it takes several versions and visits to find contact lenses that work for you. (They should quote you a complete price at some point during the first visit - ask the administrative assistant about this.)

I believe that Consumer Reports (available in your nearest friendly library) has, in the past two years or so, reported on the results of surveys of members with regard to service and cost of different eye options. I think (but don't quote me) that the conclusion was that people were more satisified with independents than with chains, and that independents were somewhat (but not exorbinantly) more expensive.
posted by WestCoaster at 11:03 AM on December 2, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, for the great answers:-) I've decided to see an independent practitioner, but will definitely get a price quote beforehand.
posted by invisible ink at 10:48 PM on December 2, 2005

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