The Internet's Impact on Eye Care
By Jason J. Nichols, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
The Internet continues to impact the practice of providing eye care. Patients have increasingly been making online vision correction purchases beyond contact lenses over the last few years. You are probably aware that as Internet sales of contact lenses increased through the years, many issues needed to be resolved to allow free trade of commerce while at the same time protecting consumers from misusing this system and placing themselves in harm's way.
In December 2011, a Vision Council VisionWatch Internet Report looked at the ways in which consumers were using the Internet to shop for their vision correction needs. Among other things, the report showed that use of the Internet in any way when purchasing spectacles rose from about 11 percent in 2010 to nearly 17 percent in 2011; it was further estimated that 1.5 million to 1.7 million spectacles were purchased over the Internet in 2011. Perhaps not surprisingly, the report showed that Americans were most likely to use the Internet when purchasing contact lenses—nearly 27 percent of individuals used the Internet in some way when purchasing contact lenses, with just over 16 percent going on to make their contact lens purchase online. Finally, of those who purchased their vision correction online, 48.5 percent rated the experience as “excellent,” and another 40.5 percent rated the experience as “good.”
These trends may not be such good news for the traditional bricks and mortar eyecare practices. That said, it is vitally important that we understand these issues as much as possible. One thing I feel certain of is that these sorts of trends should remind us to value above all the services that we provide to patients. Differentiate yourself and your practice through the services you provide—after all, as of 2012, patients still cannot receive comprehensive eye care online.