by Rishi Madhok, MD
Founders: Aaron Dallek & Steven Lee
Funding: $1 million Seed in two rounds, 12 investors; $2 million in Debt Financing
I see patients online. I buy groceries online. I leased my car online. I buy my glasses online. Unfortunately, I use a prescription from 2013 for my glasses. Why? Going in for an eye exam isn’t how I want to spend my afternoon. This is where Opternative steps in.
Active in 33 states, Opertnative replaces the giant multi-lens system of your optometrist with your phone and a computer. In under 30 minutes, you are taken through a familiar yet innovative process. You follow written and dictated instructions from your computer: 3 lines vs 4? X vs O. However, the way Opternative involves your phone as a remote – and will even use your shoe size to determine how many heel-to-toe steps you need to take away from your computer before answering – is what makes it stand out. Going through the exam, you feel as though you are a part of a techie-MacGuiver experience, bringing together what you have in hand to accomplish what you should not. This is Opternative’s market discriminator; other startups are using VR headsets and other gadgets to bring the eye exam to the home, but this still requires new, “special” equipment. Opternative utilizes what most of us have readily available on our desk and in our pockets.
How Good Is It?
Dr. Steven Lee, Opternative’s founder, says their clinical trials were a “wild success.” The Opternative eye exam was as accurate as a traditional refractive exam performed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist using a phoropter. A closer look at Opternative’s clinical study on their site shows a single center enrollment of 30 patients (60 eyes). Their data lines up with their claims, an accurate exam that also yields high patient confidence and satisfaction. However, I’d like to see this replicated in other centers with different populations of patients before I am a believer.
Opternative is approved in 45 states and they have made their service available in 33 to start. Eventually, Opternative wants to make eye exams cheap and readily accessible for the developing world. They are currently working on an in-store kiosk as well to place into eyewear stores.
It is important to note that Opternative only offers a refractive eye exam and cannot comment on any other eye health. Also, a close look at their recommendations suggest patients age 18-40, who are in good health, use Opternative. Healthy, technology-enabled patients, age 18-40, with a high degree of both traditional and computer literacy represents a significant barrier to access and narrows Opternative’s market and ability to have meaningful impact.
Would I Use It?
Yes. I fit their narrow patient profile and prefer to interact with technology to an optometrist.
Would I Invest?
Not just yet. While they are making it “easier” for some to have an up-to-date refractory eye exam and prescription, they have replaced the barrier of seeing a doctor with a high technology and literacy requirement and as a result have also narrowed their clients to a specific socioeconomic class. Opternative’s exam has not been validated in a large multicenter study. Outside the US, refractory exams are readily available at eyewear stores and kiosks. In developing countries where such store fronts don’t exist, the technological infrastructure (internet access and hardware requirements) also doesn’t exist to make Opternative a viable option. For these reasons, I fail to see its ability to scale.