Optometrists’ responsibility to consumers

June 21, 2018

Eye health and vision are important for general health and independence as we age. For many consumers, problems with either long or short sightedness are unfortunate issues that they have to deal with.

Many people facing issues with their eyesight seek assistance from qualified optometrists for relief and to get their life on track. And consumers expect optometrists to not only diagnose their eyesight issues correctly, but to also ensure that any concerns raised are quickly rectified. As experts on the technicalities of eye care and corrective eye wear, optometrists have a duty to provide the best possible solutions to people seeking corrective eye glasses especially considering how expensive corrective eye wear is.

This duty becomes even more important if the consumer needs perfect vision to support his/her livelihood. Unfortunately, some optometrists do not always honour the trust that is placed in them and sometimes refuse to refund the large amounts of money spent on their services when it comes to accuracy of prescription.

One such case was reported to the Consumer Council of Fiji where a seamstress faced losing her source of income because she was provided with incorrect eye glasses by an optometrist.

The seamstress (Louise) had damaged her glasses and needed an urgent replacement.

Without her glasses Louise had great difficulty in seeing the stitches in the fabric she was sewing and when her thread would snap she faced the added hardship of being unable to re-thread the needle.

Sewing was a means of an income for her and the issues she faced with her glasses meant a backlog of sewing orders and a loss of business. Without the much needed funds from sewing, she was unable put food on the table for her family.

Louise understood that glasses from an optometrist would be expensive but did not want to risk buying a cheaper alternative that would not solve her eyesight issues. She considered the expensive eye wear as a long term investment into ensuring her sewing business and her eye sight were maintained.Optimistic about how things would work out she visited the optometrist in Lautoka and spent $440 on a pair of glasses to solve her eyesight issues.

Despite the optometrist’s assurances that her vision would be better with the help of the glasses, her experience was painful.The optometrist prescribed her with a different set of lenses to those she was accustomed to.

With her newly prescribed glasses she found her vision was blurry and she continued to have headaches. She visited the optometrist again and was informed that the new lenses were to cater for when she grew older and it will take time getting used to.

But her prolonged headaches continued and after few weeks she visited the optometrist and requested a replacement. Optometrist offered a replacement lenses but the lenses they recommended were valued at $120 and they refused to refund the balance of $320. Remakes and adjustments can challenge the consumer’s belief in the professional’s ability and expertise.

Louise decided to take a second opinion from another eye clinic and she was informed that her original lenses were adequate and was prescribed the same. She found that her vision was better and the headaches had disappeared.

The Council noted there was a similar complaint lodged against this optometrist where a woman confined to a wheel chair was provided glasses that she still could not see with, defeating the purpose of their purchase.

In both cases the complainants sought a refund having been dissatisfied with the services rendered. Through the Council’s mediation both consumers were refunded. If a complaint can be resolved quickly and effectively by the optometrist, it will be good to the optometrist as it will encourage consumers to return to the same optometrists.

When complex prescription adjustments or product replacement is required, it is important that the clinic provides this follow up care in a way that strengthens the relationship and the consumers’ trust in the profession. Reassurance that the eye clinics are listening and acknowledging concerns is the first step to regaining trust and allowing communication.

This helps the consumer to accept the explanation, or where appropriate the solution offered by the clinic. Defensive or dismissive language or tone, will hinder to address the issue.

Consumers also need to understand that there are some challenges when it comes to eye glasses. There are challenges in assessing if something is defective or not fit for purpose. If a frame falls apart, it is clear that there is a defect, but there’s a subjective element to what the consumer perceives as a good level of vision, for example. With a new pair of glasses there may need to be a degree of adjustment, and both consumers and optometrist need to have patience.

Consumers facing any problems with optometrists should contact the National Consumer Helpline on 155 to lodge their complaint or to seek advice.

Please note that The Consumer Council of Fiji is now located at Level 5, Vanua House, Victoria Parade, Suva.