Michelle Minnie was once a practicing optometrist and now a brand manager at SDM, a leading optical wholesaler.

A visit to the optometrist has several facets to it. Venturing into the unknown can be a daunting prospect, so my aim here is to demystify the process and give some tips to take with you. I am an optometrist and practiced for many years, so I know how it works!

It boils down to:

Check in

The purpose of this process is to have your details loaded onto the practice database. This may be painful, but one has to see the other point of view. Medical Aids and Medical Schemes hold sway over the medical fraternity and demand precise information when claims are submitted. It’s best to take your medical aid card as well as identity documentation to appointments in order to avoid any issues down the line.

Some practitioners may ask you to fill in a basic medical history and lifestyle questionnaire – be thorough, the more information you give, the better the chances of your optometrist doing a good job.

The Waiting Room Chair

Don’t be scared to ask if the optometrist is running on time – you are entitled to know. Some medical officers abuse patients by running late, as if they are entitled to do so – rubbish! You are the paying customer. Yes, it is difficult to pre-empt the amount of time each consultation requires, and some optometrists may attend to patients with emergencies, but keeping people waiting for an hour or more is ridiculous and rude. It means the system is flawed. Communication is key. A good system in a practice will constantly keep patients informed of the time schedule and offer alternatives if it doesn’t suit them.


Some practices have an assistant run a series of tests before handing you over to the optometrist. These tests are basic screening tests, related to the full examination that follows. Don’t ask questions here, because they are not qualified or entitled to answer them. Keep your questions for the optometrist.

The Eye Examination

It is important to be specific about your visual needs, such as your working, recreational and home environment. If you are over- forty-five, optical correction is all about exact working distances. Go with measurements of your working distance at your laptop, needle point, sheet music etc. It is also very important to remember that no one pair of specs can fulfill all visual functions. Your office spectacles may not be ideal on the golf course, or when hiking. This is just a harsh reality. Manage your expectations, to avoid disappointment. The optometrist will go through her or his moves, and then give you
the verdict!

Be sure to ask questions and ask if you may call if you need to confirm any details or require more information. Every optometrist should be interested in a long-term relationship with you. Should you get the impression you are just passing through, do exactly that: move on. They may not be able to take your call, but they should absolutely return your call in due course. The most important part of the consultation, as far as you are concerned, is the explanation of your visual status, and the plan going forward. Make sure you understand this, because sometimes, all the information can be overwhelming. It is your right to be fully informed on the decisions that you have to make about your visual correction, there are always many options.

Referral or Therapy

If the optometrist has diagnosed or suspects pathology, you will be referred to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist). Ophthalmology has become a discipline of specialist divisions. If you are referred for a cataract, make sure you get to the best cataract guy. There may be other issues, which require specialist optometric care such as advanced contact lens fitting, eye muscle problems, low vision care, sports vision and so on. The optometrist may also want to monitor a condition and get you back for follow-up visits. If that is the case, go with it.

The Optical Dispensing

The optical dispensing involves deciding on your frame and lens choice, including coatings or tints. This is usually performed by your optometrist or an optical dispenser. If this process is successful, the result should have you:

  • Looking good
  • Seeing well
  • Feeling good.

You are never going to be happy with your specs if people don’t remark on how good you look with them on. Take your time when selecting a frame. Don’t rush the process, because you are going to wear these specs for some time to come. Take photos to ask the team at home what they think before you make the final choice. Make modern technology work for you!

The wrong choice of frame can compromise the optics and you won’t see as well with them. So, follow the optical dispenser’s advice, when there is a conflict between the cosmetic appeal and the optical issues. Another advantage of following their lead, is that the dispenser should be able to advise which frame will produce the best outcome in terms of lens thickness. Some prescriptions require specific frame shapes and sizes to work best. Your optical dispenser carries the soul responsibility to ensure that your choice of frame will work technically as far as comfort and optical performance is concerned. There are a host of things they have to take into account to ensure your wearing comfort.

If you experience any discomfort down the line with the fit of the glasses, or the visual performance, go back. They have an obligation to fix it. Sometimes it takes a
few adjustments to get your frame to the best possible position and fit. Even if you don’t like your frame three weeks later, discuss this with your optometrist. The optometrists who has a long-term interest in you as a patient, will always attempt to accommodate you.

Then the wait

Then the wait – until you get the call to collect. Some practices give a same day service depending on your prescription. Any prescription should be filled within one week. Anything beyond that could be suspect in terms of service, but some specialised products may take a few days longer.

The Collection

The collection – when you fetch your glasses, it is essential that the frame and lens fit is assessed on your face and that the frame alignment is done before they hand them over. If this does not happen, never go there again! The good guys will also, at this time, go over important adaptation issues that you might experience, as well as remind you of your follow-up schedule going forward. Always collect your spectacles in person, this is an important step in the process.

Spacial Distortion

This can be equated to sensations of sea sickness or dizziness when you first start wearing new glasses. Some people are a lot more prone to it than others. Spatial distortion usually happens when there has been a big change in prescription, especially with certain types of astigmatism. The patient may experience straight lines to be bowed or feeling off-balance when walking. However, this should be overcome within a week or so, if you are wearing the specs continuously. If there is no (even slight) improvement from one day to the next, something else is wrong.


Spectacles don’t maintain their alignment indefinitely and require adjustment from time to time. One can just pop in for this. As a rule, no appointment is required. Any optometric practice will do it for you free of charge, whether they made your glasses or not.

The next eye care appointment

Eye problems are unique in that several of them are asymptomatic (you won’t know you have it). So, you shouldn’t be guided by signs and symptoms only. Regular check-ups are important, because, if for instance glaucoma is diagnosed early and treated early, it will save your sight. Never let more than two years pass between complete examinations.

The cost

In health care circles, there is this dogma of treat and charge, without ever touching on the cost, until the patient is presented with the bill at the end. I say; be part of the process that determines the price. Decide on your budget and be fully informed what your medical cover will pay and what you are liable for. As much as I want to root for the famous brands I represent, there are many varied options available. The reality is, that spectacles providing functional vision do not have to cost a fortune, but should make you feel fabulous and look your best!

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