RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
All sorts of health information is now a few taps away on your smartphone, like how many steps you take or how well you sleep at night. Now one company is allowing you to use your phone and a computer to test your vision. And eye care professionals are upset. Some states have even banned it. From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Bradley George reports.
BRADLEY GEORGE, BYLINE: A company called Opternative offers the test. I've worn glasses most of my life, so I decided to try it out. After signing up on the company's website, I answered some questions about my eyes and overall health.
COMPUTERIZED VOICE: Make your room as dark as possible. Close your window blinds, and turn off or dim your lights in your room to avoid glare.
GEORGE: The site also asks for my shoe size to make sure I'm the right distance from my computer monitor. You keep your smartphone in your hand and use the web browser to answer questions about what you see on the screen. OK. In the next test, select whether the blurs between the triangle appear to touch at all. Continue. You can see a distinct black area between the triangles. You should select no. Like a traditional test, there are shapes, lines and letters. It takes about 30 minutes.
AARON DALLEK: We're trying to identify how bad your vision is. So we're kind of testing your vision to failure, is the way that I would describe it.
GEORGE: Aaron Dallek is CEO of Chicago-based Opternative. I spoke with him via Skype. He co-founded the company with an optometrist who was searching for ways to offer eye exams online.
DALLEK: Me being a lifetime glasses and contact wearer, I was, like - where do we start? (Laughter) So that was about three and a half years ago. And we've been working on it ever since.
GEORGE: Dallek says 65,000 patients have signed up for the test. It's free, but costs $40 to have a doctor in the person's home state review the online results and email a prescription for glasses or contacts. Eye care professionals like Atlanta optometrist Minty Nguyen have concerns. She took the test and likes that it asks patients health questions. But she says there's no substitute to going to an eye doctor.
MINTY NGUYEN: And again, it's not for me to make any more money as an optometrist. It's just that it kind of encourages patients to neglect the health portion of their exam, which is key. You don't want to go blind. It's one of your most important senses.
GEORGE: Opternative is available in 34 states. But the company is under scrutiny. This year, Indiana outlawed the test. And Michigan sent the company a cease and desist order. Earlier this month, Georgia Governer Nathan Deal, signed a law to ban the test here. The sponsor, Representative Earl Ehrhart ridiculed Opternative while speaking to a House committee.
EARL EHRHART: They're required to use a computer and measure a certain distance away from the computer using their shoe. That's why the company claims for the exam to be accurate. That's fairly difficult to believe. I think our trained optometric doctors, under their current protocols, and our ophthalmologists go a little bit further than the shoe standard.
GEORGE: Opternative CEO Dallek says the company was never meant to replace a full eye exam. But he says state lawmakers shouldn't decide who gets to take medical tests.
DALLEK: We recommend patients get a comprehensive eye health exam every two years. And for some people, maybe they choose to get it less often. But that's their choice. That's part of the free market, for patients to be able to kind of choose what's best for them.
GEORGE: The American Academy of Ophthalmology says the test may be suitable for 18-39 year olds who just want to update their prescription, but only as a compliment to regular visits with an eye doctor. The American Optometric Association has asked the Food and Drug Administration to pull Opternative off the market. For NPR News, I'm Bradley George in Atlanta.
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