Warby Parker, the hip eyewear retailer known for its affordability, vast selection of frames, and immersive online shopping experience, has introduced a new digital prescription check app that allows customers to check their vision prescription with just a dark room and their phone. After a quick battery of tests confirming the prescription, customers can purchase prescription glasses from their website or order a pair to try on, creating a one-stop online shop for a task that formerly consisted of scheduling a visit with an Optometrist before shopping for new glasses.

The new service unbundles the Snellen Exam, the visual acuity test with the big letter E among others on a white background, from the comprehensive dilated eye exam which traditionally includes three other components: dilation, tonometry, and a visual field test. By unbundling this visual acuity test from the comprehensive exam, Warby Parker has created what is virtually an express checkout lane for its customers who require prescriptions.

This type of unbundling stems from consumers being overserved—paying more than they would rather for a product or service that exceeds their demands. An example of a product commonly overserving customers is the newspaper. Back in its heyday, not all newspaper subscribers made a habit of reading each section of the whole newspaper each morning. Many readers had an idea of what sections they were interested in before even peeking at the front page, and were likely to just skim or skip whole sections altogether.

The customer decision to purchase but not consume the whole is a tell-tale sign of overservice. Other websites and media companies have since taken advantage by undercutting the price of newspapers and specializing in more specific interests—e.g. Craigslist and Ebay replacing the Classifieds or an ESPN app replacing the Sports section.

In many cases, services are bundled for good reason, whether it be convenience, simplicity, or cost savings. In the case of a comprehensive dilated eye exam, the additional three components of the exam, in addition to the visual acuity test, inform overall eye health and risk of glaucoma, macular degeneration, loss of peripheral vision, and even diabetes. They are all important tests in their own right, so the tests are traditionally done at the clinic because it is convenient to do them while making the trip.

Is Warby Parker being reckless, then, by unbundling the Snellen Test from the more comprehensive eye exam? The retailer is arguably encouraging its customers to skip clinical visits in favor of the convenience of a digital express lane. Patients wanting to merely ensure the right prescription could continue to use the online tool, and disregard tests indicative of overall long-term eye health until apparent symptoms arise and the opportunity to take preventive measures is squandered.

Fortunately, the company has not overlooked patient health when creating its new app. The app will only confirm prescriptions, and will not write a new prescription if one’s vision has changed from the previous year. Since glaucoma is less likely to occur in patients under 40, eligibility to use the app is limited to those between the ages of 18 and 40 years old, without a history of eye disease, who have had a comprehensive eye exam in the last five years, and seek only a single-vision distance prescription. These guardrails intend to keep use of the convenient new app “appropriate” and prevent individuals from falling through the cracks in maintaining their long-term eye health.

Unbundling should be considered a force for good, and an opportunity to reexamine traditional ways of doing things rooted in convenience. When done correctly, it can beget deliberate discussion and review of the evidence regarding appropriateness of care. In considering the evidence, healthcare leaders are likely to find room to cut costs in an appropriate manner, reduce complexity, and improve the overall experience of the patient attempting to navigate the system. In reviewing the story of Warby Parker, thus far, we hope other innovators within and outside of healthcare can see the right path for unbundling and innovation with 20/20 clarity.

For more, see:
How Disruption Can Finally Revolutionize Healthcare


  • Ryan Marling
    Ryan Marling