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Eyeglasses - Then and Now

Eyeglasses – Then and Now
Joel Kestenbaum, OD

Optometry and Eyeglasses Throughout the Years

The manufacture of eyeglasses has come a long way in the last fifty to sixty years.  Technology now allows for almost immediate gratification in patients ability to wear a pair of glasses made to exact specifications, in many cases without even leaving the eye doctor’s office.  Patients would be able to get same day glasses or even a same day eye exam and glasses.

Let’s go back 50 years.  A person went to the eye doctor for an eye examination.  There was no managed care or vision plans back then.  Most doctors and patients had a very personalized relationship.  Optometrists were usually a one-man office.  Perhaps there was a receptionist or other helper.  The doctor did the exam, asked you about your family and perhaps told you about his.  When finished with the exam, the doctor would help you choose some eyeglass frames.  You had a choice…. Black, brown, gold or silver.  There were only a handful of frame manufacturers, there wasn’t an extensive style offering like there is today and the frame quality was marginal at best.  Once the patient chose the frame, the lens choice was plastic or glass.  Glass was king back then and although glass lenses were tempered for impact resistance, they were not as safe to wear as the lenses are today.  Even standard plastic lenses do not stand up to strong impacts and are lacking by today’s’ safety standards.  Once all the measurements were taken by the optometrist, the frames were sent to a lab and the eyeglasses were processed.  This took a week or two or more.

Let’s look at what it’s like today.  People have many choices as to where to receive their eye care.  Optometrists practice in both private and commercial settings.  Although you can still develop a nice rapport with your eye doctor, the volume of patients that the doctors have to see today diminishes the time spent with each patient.  Optometrists in private settings have learned to delegate the frame selection and lens discussions to opticians or stylists.  There are so many more styles, colors, and frame materials from which to choose.  If you were to attend the Vision Expo, an annual eye care extravaganza held at the Javits Center in New York and in Las Vegas, you would be amazed at the number of frame and lens manufacturers and distributors that there are worldwide.

Same Day Glasses

I’ve often been asked, “Where can I get same day glasses near me?”.  In-office finishing of lenses is now commonplace as technology has made the equipment more user-friendly.  The typical scenario in most offices is that the frame is chosen by the patient, measurements are taken by the optician or the technician, lenses are ordered from the lab, and then they are cut and inserted into the frame according to exacting measurements.  The turn-around time can be as little as one day or shorter.  In many instances, optometrists or opticians are able to stock the most common prescriptions in a variety of materials, allowing for a finished product the same day or under an hour.  It is so important that the consumer understand that, just as with frames, not all lenses are created equal.  There are many levels of quality of lenses, accounting for the difference in cost to the consumer.  It is commonplace to see advertisements for cheap eyeglasses done in an hour, even thirty minutes.  Unfortunately, consumers do not receive quality eye wear at a cheap price.  Frames are poorly constructed and lenses are either seconds or are made with inferior materials containing distortions that may go unrecognized at first.  Buyer beware.

Vision Benefits and Glasses

Another issue in many cases has been the development of managed vision care… i.e. plans that dictate the materials that a patient can choose from and the labs that the doctor has to use to fabricate your eyeglasses.  Managed vision care has been both a good thing and a bad thing for the public.  On the good side, vision plans have educated people to have their eyes examined more frequently improving early detection of eye disease. (This is a topic for another article).  On the other hand, vision plans have brainwashed people into thinking that they have to get the eyeglasses that are allowed by “the plan”.  Think about it….., vision plans are “for-profit” organizations.  They get paid a fee by employers to provide basic eyeglasses.  They do not want you to choose better quality options or they do not make money.  Your eye doctor’s team, on the other hand, has your best interest in mind when they prescribe eyeglass materials that are best suited for you, that may fall outside of the plans “allowed” benefits.  Another downside to vision plans is that they have only certain labs that make the eyeglasses.  These labs are usually below average on the quality scale.  With vision plan labs, the turnaround time to manufacture the eyeglasses is just like it was 50 to 60 years ago.  My best advice would be to choose wisely and follow your instincts, not your pocketbook.  You wear glasses every day, in many cases all of your waking hours.  Why get the cheap “plan” frame and lenses when you can see more comfortably and most often feel and look first-rate in better quality choices.  Your plan benefits can always be used as a discount for improved options and you can get your glasses fabricated in a high quality lab in a shorter amount of time.

Just as I would hope that you choose your eye doctor wisely, I would hope that you trust that doctor and his/her team to guide you into quality eye wear materials that will stand up to the use that you give them every day.  You only have one set of eyes.  Treat them right.

Make an appointment today.

Dr. Joel Kestenbaum

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