Sunday, July 6, 2008

You've Got to Be Kidding Me

I have once again encountered a black hole in New York services, namely filling my eye wear prescription. Back in Canada, the standard procedure was to first visit an OD to get a prescription and then shop around to find a pair of glasses/contacts that suited you. My usual course of action was consequently to pay for the eye exam and exit with my prescription. No problems, no hard/soft sells, i.e., a done deal. I managed to follow the same formula down in the South without hassle. However, for the past two years, I have found that such is not the method followed in the Empire State.

Last year I tried my luck in Queens. I asked how much the eye exam would cost and was told $30. I couldn't believe the price, which should have been my first tip off that something was amiss. Since the given optician was my husband's though, I didn't ask any further questions. Upon arriving for my appointment, I went to the back where the OD was, and had a very low-key, thorough exam. She was, I will admit, one of the best ODs I had ever encountered. However, when I went to the front to get a copy of my prescription, I was met with a surprise: the proprietor refused to give me the prescription, claiming that he keeps the record on file, and that I had to buy at least one box of contacts, to make it worth his while. Not wanting to make any waves, I asked how much the box of contacts would cost.

The price he gave me was $100 for a brand that is sold elsewhere for no more than $50. I then informed him that I would just like to pay for the exam, and reminded him that I had been upfront in stating that I only wanted the exam. He said that I should have known, because that process of buying from him is a given. "Why should I give you the prescription so that you can just go buy online?", he said. We agreed to a compromise: he would return my $30, and I would leave without my prescription. He did subsequently try to get my husband to convince me to place an order, but my husband and I managed to exit the shop in a civil manner. Needless to say, my husband has refrained from any further dealings with that shop or its proprietor.

Last month, having learned my lesson (or so I thought) from the incident in Queens, and down to my final pair of contacts, I went for another eye exam. This time, I made sure to state outright in all communications prior to my appointment that I was only interested in getting an eye exam and getting my prescription; I was not interested in purchasing anything. No problem, they said. The combined exam (contacts/eyeglasses) costs $60. Great, I thought.

But it was not to be. During my eye exam, which I had to pay for before entering the OD's office, I was submitted to several attempts at soft selling (E.g., You're sure you don't want to look up front?) before being informed that my exam did not include glaucoma testing (which costs an additional $25 and is performed on a different day). Then, at the end of the exam, I was given a prescription that omitted certain key information. For example, what is the true diameter of my eyes, versus what it states in my old contact lens prescription? Or, equally important, what is my PD (pupil distance)? During a phone call the following week, the purpose of which was to obtain this missing information, I was instead told to simply order a trial pair of the lenses I want and "test" them out. Maybe they would work out, maybe not, he said. In short, once again I was refused information that legally an OD is required to provide patients, at no cost.

Thankfully, my husband's best friend is an optician. He agreed to order a trial pair of lenses for me, and has attempted to answer my questions in the process. Unfortunately, he also lives out-of-state, and I am consequently left without in-person follow up care. In the end, to ensure that any lenses fit my eyes properly, I am going to have to go to yet another OD and pay out-of-pocket for a fitting exam.

Buyer beware, as they say. Perhaps it's just my mazel, but I find it sad that the medical "industry" is such that every provider attempts to make a buck off "customers", potentially to the detriment of the customer's health. Next year, I am going to remember to ask what the eye exam includes, and whether I can receive follow up care at an additional price. Hopefully then I can do away with all this nonsense, and ensure that my eyes stay healthy for years to come, bli ayin hara.

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