You may be accustomed to trusting the traditional setting of an eye doctor's office for all of your optical needs. Is Walmart a good alternative?
Quality and OfferingsWalmart Vision Centers, and competitor Sam’s Club Optical Centers, see more than 6 million patients each year. They are the second leading providers of optical goods (eyeglasses and contact lenses) in the United States.
Besides being conveniently located to most people, Walmart Vision Centers are tastefully decorated and offer nice selections of eyewear at reasonable prices, including wide varieties of frames and lenses. Many people appreciate the ability to "walk in" without an appointment and find a popular name-brand frame, including Baby Phat, Phat Farm, Body Glove, Nickelodeon and Hanna Montana. You may, however, find it difficult to special order certain items, such as brand name progressive lenses or high-profile brand frames.
A few of my patients have shown me glasses purchased from discount retailers that I haven’t been impressed with. Even though the prescriptions are usually fairly accurate, the quality of the frames and lenses seems to be somewhat lacking, in my opinion.
Walmart Doctors Are Real DoctorsDon't feel like you must visit a private practice eye doctor in order to receive a thorough basic eye examination. Both independent optometrists, as well as Walmart-employed optometrists, offer complete eye exams to diagnose vision conditions as well as eye diseases. Rest assured, every doctor that Wal-Mart hires or contracts are licensed and fully certified optometrists, and in some cases ophthalmologists. However, if you have a fairly detailed prescription, you may want to stick with your existing optician who knows your history and whose skills to take extremely accurate measurements have been personally tested and approved.
Because health care laws vary from state to state, some doctors are actually Walmart employees. However, most are independent doctors of optometry who lease their equipment, staff and office space from Walmart. Because of this lease situation, the turnover rate among Walmart's doctors is fairly high. Therefore, you may not see the same doctor every time you return for an office visit or examination. (I have found that most patients enjoy developing somewhat of a relationship with their eye doctor whom they see year after year.)
Ensure Your Insurance CoverageWhile most independent optometrists honor several insurance plans, you may not be able to use your health or vision insurance at Walmart vision centers, as many of the centers' optometrists work on cash-based systems. Also, while some of their doctors provide ancillary services, such as treatment of eye infections or disease, their examination and office setup is mainly designed to provide routine vision care. More complex eye conditions may be better left to private eye care practices.
Who Really Has Lower Pricing?Even though you may think of it as a low price leader, Walmart's prices of eyeglass lenses and frames are often about the same as those of many private practices. In fact, Walmart once boasted extremely competitive contact lens prices, with prices being slightly below those found in private practices or other commercial practices, such as Lenscrafters. However, Walmart made an agreement with 1-800-Contacts for contact lens processing, purchasing and sales, resulting in an increase in price. You may be surprised to learn that your private practice doctor is just as competitive on contact lens prices.
Bottom line: Do your homework and select wisely for the best deal and care for your situation.
Wal-Mart Fact Sheet, Walmartstores.com, 2009.