Should I Pay for Retinal Imaging?

Should I Pay for Retinal Imaging?

by Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, FSLS

  • December 18, 2022

More eye care practices offer retinal imaging today, a digital photograph of the internal structures of your eye. You may wonder if it is worth it. Should you pay extra for it? Most eye care practice charge between $30 to $50 for this service. Vision plans generally do not cover the cost of it.

What is Retinal Imaging?

Retinal imaging is a digital photograph of the interior of your eye. It becomes a permanent part of your record and enables your doctor to compare the internal structures of your eye over time. In may improve the doctor’s ability to diagnose subtle eye disease, helping to preserve your vision.

Retinal imaging is a valuable diagnostic tool. So much so, in fact, that at ReVision Optometry, retinal imaging is part of our general eye exam, provided at no additional cost to our patients. However, since this technology is expensive to acquire, most eye care practices charge extra for it. If your eye care practice provides retinal imaging at an extra cost, it probably is still a good idea to pay for it.

Retinal Imaging Does NOT Replace Eye Dilation

Many other eye care practices with retinal imaging have to pay use fees for retinal imaging equipment. These practices often have a monthly minimum quota of retinal images to hit. This puts pressure on these practices to upsell their patients to pay the additional $30 to $50 at their eye exams.

Some practitioners even resort to scaring patients to sign waivers if they opt out of retinal imaging. In the most confrontational situations, practitioners and their staff may threaten to dilate your eyes if you decline retinal imaging. Eye dilation can make it hard to see up close for 1-2 hours and make your eyes light sensitive for 4-6 hours. Yet this hard sell is unfortunate because it incorrectly implies that examination by retinal imaging is equivalent to a skillfully performed dilated eye examination. This is false!

Retinal imaging can reduce the likelihood of eye dilation. However it absolutely will not capture the entire surface area of the retina. Even the advanced “ultrawide field” retinal imaging captures only 80% of the retinal surface, missing the remainder. Therefore, eye dilation is still necessary in specific situations to view the edges of the retina. For example, if you have a sudden increase in spots in vision, flashes of light, or a dark curtain coming across your vision, dilated eye examination is the gold standard to detect any retinal breaks. There are also situations when your eye doctor needs to dilate to get a good measurement for eyeglasses when the internal eye focusing muscle is relaxed. Retinal imaging does not help situations where dilating drops are needed to relax the eye focusing muscle.


ReVision Optometry is a referral-based practice in San Diego providing scleral contact lens services for patients with keratoconus and other complex eye conditions. Retinal imaging is included as part of our comprehensive eye exam, at no additional cost to you. To schedule, request your examination online or call our office at 619.299.6064.

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