JINS, one of the largest Japanese eyewear makers that recently made presence in the U.S. with its new store near San Francisco’s Union Square, is doing something pretty new for the U.S. market. The company partnered with 20/20 NOW, a novel eye exam provider that uses remote technicians and ophthalmologists, to offer eye exams and custom-made glasses together in under an hour and usually for less than $200. We were invited to visit the JINS store to try out a telemedical refraction eye exam performed by a professional hundreds of miles away and to have a pair of glasses made to that prescription.
As per California law, a glasses store can’t hire docs to do refractions on site. So JINS rents out space to 20/20 NOW in the back of the store where the eye exams are conducted, essentially creating two cooperative businesses that are right next to each other.
The visit started with a quick overview of the process and a tour of the JINS store and 20/20 NOW examination room. Besides the impressive glasses selection, JINS features a large installation near the rear of the store where lenses are shaped to the prescription. It looks like a small automated factory, with multiple machines and a conveyor belt passing the lenses through producing the final product.
Walking further to the back we reach the 20/20 NOW eye exam area. After filling out a short Q&A on a clipboard, we were taken inside. The place is not big, but has a pretty comprehensive set of eye examination equipment. This includes a fully automated refractor with anterior segment photography, a fully automated fundus camera, visual field assessment, a tonometer to measure the intraocular pressure, and a pupil assessment device that looks for optic nerve abnormalities and visual pathway problems. While the comprehensive exam costs only $60, we were there to make glasses and needed only the refraction component.
Refraction costs $40, a bargain for San Francisco’s Union Square neighborhood considering Costco charges $49 at nearby stores. The whole procedure took approximately ten minutes and involved an on-site specialist who prepped the machines and the patient, and a remote technician that performed the exam. Like all the other machines, the autorefractor is connected to a nearby computer that the technician can see and operate remotely. A fairly large TV hovering above the exam area lets you converse with the technician. We didn’t even know where and how far away she was.
The exam itself was quite typical, involving looking into an autorefractor to get a quick baseline reading, having the current pair of glasses measured on the auto lensometer, and then a few minutes looking through the auto phoropter and reading off letters on a screen. The whole process is guided by the person on the TV while the on-site person does basic prep tasks. Though we had a professional optometrist there with us, who is regularly available during daytime hours, the store can have one of its regular workers help people go through the exam process even when the trained 20/20 NOW staff is not there.
After going through the refraction exam, our remote technician collected the data and passed it to an invisible ophthalmologist that we didn’t even see, who may have been at a third location. Contracted by 20/20 NOW, this person reviewed the findings collected during the refraction and prescribed the lenses appropriate to the eyes. In the meantime we went out to the front of the JINS store to peruse the selection of glasses. About ten minutes later the script was ready and we had selected a frame.
The next step is to manufacture the glasses. A couple other tests are quickly done by one of the JINS people in preparation for that, such as measuring the pupil-to-pupil distance, and the lenses to be cut are put on a conveyor belt to go into the grinding machine.
They’re ready within about thirty minutes, but we needed progressives and the process for them is slower. Progressive lenses are more complicated and have to be manufactured off-site and take about two weeks to be shipped to your door.
Our pair was comfortable and very light. Considering the exam was $40 and the glasses $120, a total package of $160 is really an impressive value for the eye exam and a pair of quality glasses.
We’d like to thank the folks at JINS and 20/20 NOW for the experience.
Link: JINS homepage…