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Hubble Contact Lenses Are a Concern to Most Eye Doctors
Jennifer Ortakales Oct 1, 2019
The following is an excerpted article from the website BusinessInsider.com. If you wish to read the entire article on the original web page, please click here.
I’ve used buzzy contacts subscription startup Hubble for almost 3 years, but never thought twice about it until I learned why some doctors hate the brand so much…
I’ve been wearing Hubble contacts for about three years and generally had a good experience. But many eye doctors don’t like Hubble. I talked to four doctors, none of whom recommend Hubble. They said that the lens material is outdated and the company risks selling incorrect contacts to patients.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has received over 100 complaints about Hubble that show similar concerns. Many mentioned customers who received Hubble lenses without their doctors’ knowledge.
I also talked to seven customers, most of whom stopped using Hubble because they found the contacts to be uncomfortable. Hubble says eye doctors don’t like it because the startup threatens their business. And the company says there’s no evidence that its contacts are worse than other options.
When I visited Warby Parker a few months ago, it’d been two and a half years since my last eye exam. I knew my new prescription would be significantly different from the contacts I’d been wearing. But I didn’t know I might have been wearing the wrong lenses the whole time. During my appointment, the optometrist asked to see a package of my current contacts to write my new prescription. I pulled the little blue packages out of my bag and she asked, “Are those Hubble?” She seemed alarmed.
I told her that Hubble dailies were the only lenses I’ve worn that don’t dry out my eyes by the afternoon. I also liked the convenience of getting them shipped to my apartment.
She seemed surprised. She told me she never recommends Hubble to her patients, calling the lenses outdated, and criticizing the company’s verification process. Still, she reluctantly wrote me the prescription.
I sent Hubble my updated prescription, but the optometrists’ concerns were still bothering me. I’d never had any eye problems, but maybe there was something sketchy about Hubble. So I decided to do some research and seek second opinions.
‘Contact lenses are not one-size-fits-all’
Hubble, founded in 2016, ships contact lenses to customers for about $1 a day. The company has raised $70 million from investors, and is valued at about $246 million, according to PitchBook. Online, I found doctors criticizing Hubble’s practices and technology. Dr. Ryan Corte of Northlake Eye in Charlotte, North Carolina was one of them. He tested Hubble’s free trial in February 2018, but said he couldn’t wear the contacts for more than a day.
Corte’s main points were almost identical to my optometrist’s qualms — outdated material, questionable verification method, and concerns for patient safety. But his review applauded Hubble’s cofounders for their business acumen. “They took an old material and built a brand behind a fun name and sexy marketing campaign,” he wrote.
Corte is concerned that Hubble is taking shortcuts that don’t place patients’ overall eye health at the forefront. “If your vision in your contact lens is off,” he told me on the phone, “that can lead to eye strain, headaches, fatigue, decreased quality of life overall for people.”
And it’s not just Corte. The American Optometric Association (AOA) has criticized Hubble for substituting specific prescriptions for generic lenses that don’t account for conditions like astigmatism, dry eyes, or size of the cornea.
“Contact lenses are not one-size-fits-all,” said Dr. Barbara Horn, president of the AOA, “It appears that Hubble believes that their lens can do that and it definitely can’t.”
The American Optometric Association (AOA) has criticized Hubble for substituting specific prescriptions for generic lenses. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Reports in publications like the New York Times and Quartz have criticized the way that Hubble verifies prescriptions, as well as the older material it uses to make its lenses. Hubble uses methafilcon A, a material that’s been used since 1986.
There’s been plenty of debate over whether the older material that Hubble uses for its lenses is truly inferior to newer options.
In a statement to Business Insider, Hubble said that there’s no evidence that newer lenses, which can let more oxygen reach the eye, are more comfortable or perform better.
Here’s Hubble’s statement:
“Studies have shown that, for daily disposable contact lenses, the increased oxygen permeability of newer silicone hydrogel materials has not meaningfully improved contact lens performance or comfort. In fact, a recent study of daily disposable contact lenses found ‘no clinically significant differences’ between contact lenses that, like Hubble, are made of hydrogel materials and those that are made of more expensive silicone hydrogel materials. The study also concluded that contact lens material choice is a matter of preference.”
But I wanted to know if there are any serious or long-term risks to using an outdated lens material, or if it is more of a personal preference, like choosing between the latest iPhone and a two-year-old model that works just fine.
I talked to four doctors, none of whom recommend Hubble. They said that the lens material is outdated and the company risks selling incorrect contacts to patients.
I also reviewed more than 100 complaints about Hubble sent to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The complaints echoed the same concerns and mention customers who received Hubble lenses without their doctors’ knowledge.
Finally, I talked to seven customers, most of whom stopped using Hubble because they found the contacts to be uncomfortable.
Of the four doctors I talked to, none said they’d recommend Hubble to their patients.
There’s been plenty of debate over whether the older material that Hubble uses for its lenses is truly inferior to newer options. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Dr. Allen Wegener of Richards and Wegener Optometrists in Liberty, Missouri, said he doesn’t prescribe Hubble, because the technology is old. “People don’t go out and buy old flip phones,” he said.
When Corte, the eye doctor in North Carolina, fits his patients for contacts, he makes sure the lens centers well on their eye, has the right curvature, the right diameter, the right power, and that the patient is comfortable. “If the fit is poor, it can slide around and just lead to discomfort,” said Corte.
But there can be serious issues if a patient switches to another lens that their doctor never fit them in. If the lens is too tight, said Corte, it can lead to complications from a lack of oxygen getting through from the tear film to the cornea. Most doctors I talked to are concerned that Hubble’s lenses don’t allow enough oxygen to the eyes.
And oxygen, I found out, is essential to eye health. The retina is one of the highest oxygen-consuming tissues of the human body. For the 13 years I’ve been wearing contacts, I never knew my eyes “breathe.” Every contact has an oxygen permeability (OP) rating, or transmissibility level (Dk). The higher the number, the more oxygen can get to your eyes. Oxygen not only makes the contact comfortable on the eye with each wear, it also helps keep the eye healthy over time.
Dr. Katie Miller of Envision Eye Care in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware said she won’t prescribe Hubble’s lenses because the material doesn’t let enough oxygen reach the eye. Doctors have another major concern. Many claim they don’t receive any of the prescription verification requests that Hubble sends out.
Optometrists are concerned Hubble’s lens material is outdated and doesn’t get enough oxygen to the eye. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
To verify a prescription, Hubble calls the customer’s doctor with an automated message. According to the FTC’s “Contact Lens Rule,” sellers must give doctors eight business hours to respond to a prescription authorization. If sellers like Hubble don’t receive a response in that eight-hour window, they are free to fulfill the prescription.
The FTC has received 109 complaints about Hubble and its practices. The most common complaints are that doctors are either not given a chance to answer “robotic” and “incomprehensible” voicemails from Hubble or that they do not authorize the verification, yet they later find out their patients received Hubble lenses anyway.
In a statement, Hubble said it uses automated messages, “in part to prevent verification agents from inadvertently omitting information that is required to be conveyed to eye care providers by the Contact Lens Rule.”
Horn, the AOA president, said Hubble’s automated calls are difficult to understand, and that some doctors can’t hear the patient’s name or birthdate. The AOA is working on a bill that would prohibit automated calls, she said.
Hubble provided the following statement to Business Insider:
“The AOA has been trying to prevent consumers from buying contact lenses online for two decades, and this is just another chapter in that story. Congress will understand that the AOA’s purpose is to enrich their membership at the expense of their patients.”
According to an AOA statement sent to the FTC, the AOA has received 176 physician complaints regarding verification calls since 2017, 58% of which were related to Hubble.
The doctors I spoke to said they’ve never received communication from Hubble to verify patients’ prescriptions.
Dr. Jason Kaminski of Vision Source Longmont in Longmont, Colorado filed a complaint with the FTC. He declined to comment on the complaint, but he said that in one instance, Hubble substituted the specific lens and material he’d prescribed for a patient. He said he’s never authorized Hubble lenses, yet his patient received them anyway.
Horn had a similar experience. She’d fitted a patient with a special lens for astigmatism. The patient came back to Horn’s office a few weeks later, upset because her vision was blurry.
“She’d given the prescription [to Hubble] and the lenses given to her by Hubble weren’t anywhere close to her prescription,” Horn said.
While some Hubble customers can get expired prescriptions fulfilled, others have experienced an interruption in service when their prescriptions aren’t verified.
I hadn’t been to the eye doctor since August 2016, but I received Hubble contacts for almost a year after my prescription expired in 2018. Hubble told me it re-verified my prescription in December 2018, although my doctor’s office told me it had no record of that authorization.
The customers I talked to tried Hubble because they thought it would be more convenient or cheaper than their previous brand. But for many, the convenience faded away once they wore the contacts. Every contact has an oxygen permeability (OP) rating, or transmissibility level (Dk). The higher the number, the more oxygen can get to your eyes. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Wade Michael, a brand strategist, said he found Hubble’s marketing attractive and sleek, comparing it to Harry’s and Casper. “It just happened that the quality, I think, didn’t match the actual product at the end of the day.”
Michael could comfortably wear his previous Acuvue Oasys bi-weekly lenses from 6 am to 11 pm, but couldn’t wear the Hubble dailies for nearly as long.
“I noticed that I was trying to put them in my eye as late as possible in the morning before I left for work,” said Michael. “By like five or six at night they were super dried out.”
Michael wore Hubble lenses for about a year and a half before switching.
His new doctor prescribed One Day Acuvue Moist and Michael said it’s a “night-and-day” difference. “Holding my lenses now, it feels like water almost. You can tell that they’re super supple and really, really well hydrated, which compared to the Hubbles, it’s a really stark contrast.”
Christina Feller stopped using Hubble contacts after one became stuck in her eye or damaged it.
When Feller first signed up for Hubble, she said she thought they would be easier and cheaper. “That was before I knew that they were dailies,” said Feller.
‘There’s no way I’m putting these back in my eye”. Her previous lenses lasted all day, from about 9 am until 10 pm. But she said Hubble’s lenses only lasted until about 3 pm. “I would always have to take them out because they would dry up my eye and they would feel uncomfortable,” said Feller. She doused them in saline solution to make them more bearable.
When she arrived home from a long drive, she said she couldn’t get the right lens out and her eye became red and irritated. “It feels horrible. It feels like a contact is in there. So I’m like freaking out at this point.” By 11 pm, she decided she had to sleep with the contact still in her eye. She went to the eye doctor the next day, where two doctors examined her eye but couldn’t find the contact. The doctors told her the contact must have fallen out and scratched her eye.
Feller threw out the rest of her Hubble lenses. “There’s no way I’m putting these back in my eye after that,” she said.
For three months, Eric Vandegrift noticed his Hubble contacts getting drier. Then he got an abrasion on his eye. “They just got continually worse for my eyes,” said Vandegrift. He wore them regularly every day. “I’d actually take them out before the day was done because they were dry.” One night he’d had some trouble taking out his contact, but didn’t notice until morning that there was an abrasion on his right eye. He went to a music festival with partially-blurred vision and mentioned Hubble in a tweet.
His doctor gave him medication for the abrasion and prescribed Acuvue contacts.
“It’s partially on me,” said Vandegrift. “It’s on the customer to know when a product is cheap.” He said the whole experience has made him take his health more seriously. “I’m not painting them as a bad company, just their product is garbage,” he said.
My own experience with Hubble contacts has been fine, but after almost three years using them, I’d like to try a brand that doctors trust. Most of the customers I spoke to said Hubble contacts got too dry to wear for a full day. I’ve generally had a pleasant few years using Hubble, with few negative side-effects. I don’t wear them every day, but typically switch between glasses and contacts throughout the week. I’ll admit that lately my Hubble boxes have been piling up, as I’ve been wearing glasses more often than usual since starting this article.
Sometimes my Hubble contacts get dry, particularly if I fall asleep on the train. They feel like sandpaper after a 20-30 minute doze and I can barely keep my eyes open for the five minutes it takes to regain moisture. Occasionally, I’ve experienced weird sensations — feeling the lens on my eye, bits of light or color passing in my vision, some random stinging and watery eyes. Not to mention, I do have slight astigmatism that Hubble lenses don’t correct.
Dr. Horn says that if a contact lens doesn’t feel perfect within minutes, it should be reevaluated.
“If a lens isn’t feeling right on your eye, that is telling you something,” said Horn. “It isn’t going to be damaging to every patient, but with healthier options available, you want the healthiest option that you can get.”
For now, I’ll use up the five boxes of Hubble contacts I have left, while wearing my glasses most of the time. But I’d like to try a new brand to test whether it could make a difference, and possibly get me back to wearing contacts almost every day.