Where to Get Eyes Checked in San Diego?

Where to Get Eyes Checked in San Diego?

by Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, FSLS

  • October 29, 2023

Where should you and your family get eyes checked? There is ample choice in San Diego, serving the differing eye care needs of our population. In Southern California, there are two optometry schools and four ophthalmology institutions. These programs graduate many eye doctors that often locate in the same vicinity.

The practice setting influences the level of service, quality, and cost. You can generally expect two of these criteria at the expense of the third. For example, if an eye care practice provides excellent service and quality, you can expect elevated cost. On the other hand, if you seek low cost, expect to sacrifice either service and/or quality.


Examples include LensCrafters, Target Optical, Eyeglass World, Warby Parker, Wal-Mart, Costco, and Stanton Optical. Optometrists affiliated with these retail corporate settings usually see a large volume of patients. This does not necessarily mean that the examinations are rushed. But the emphasis is on prescribing eyeglasses and disposable contact lenses and their operating systems are optimized for their delivery. While affiliated optometrists must still meet the standard of care required by any licensee – including diagnosing eye disease and ensuring that a patient with eye disease get appropriate treatment – these retail-corporate practices cater to retail sales rather than specialty care, e.g., prescribing custom scleral contact lenses. If you have a complex and serious eye condition, you will likely get directed elsewhere. A larger proportion getting exams at retail-corporate settings are younger and without medical eye issues. These retail-corporate settings are bolstered by high visibility and big-budget marketing campaigns. Retail practices are often open on weekends and evenings, with multiple associate doctors to allow these expanded hours.

Independent Private Practices

If the retail-corporate chains are like the Sizzler, Chipotle, or Olive Garden of eye care, then the independent private practices are like the family-owned restaurants. Private practice is often held by optometrists as their epitome because the owner-operators have freedom to control their schedules, to hire the staff they want, decide which vision plans to accept, to prescribe without corporate restrictions, to purchase instruments they feel are appropriate, and control décor of their office. While there are exceptions to the rule, private practices tend to be more service-oriented and handle a lower patient load. Private practices usually, but not always, are more expensive than retail-corporate settings. If you need specialty eye care services – such as scleral lens prescribing, vision therapy, low vision, or Corneal Refractive Therapy – independent practices are often a prime choice.

Corporate Investor-Owned Practice

Did you know that almost 25% of optometric practices in San Diego are private equity owned? These are formerly independent practices that got bought by corporate investors and packaged together with other similar practices for eventual sale. The corporate owners are looking to turn a big profit. Most of these private equity affiliated practices intend to sell in 3 to 5 years to an even larger corporate entity. On the outside, many of these corporate practices look like independent practices. In fact, the only way you can easily know if it is private equity-owned is by asking, although if you are a longstanding patient, you may notice a change in the office culture. While each private equity fueled network is different, the financial incentives and business goals within each network are the same – i.e., driving increased short-term profitability by increasing sales, seeing more patients, and/or cutting costs.

Academic Eye Center

San Diego’s lone academic eye center is Shiley Eye Institute, which is part of UCSD. It is a high volume and well-regarded ophthalmology institution, educating the next generation of eye surgeons. Each clinic day, between 300 to 500 patients are seen. While not the most efficient setting, as our patients report that appointments often take 2.5 hours, it is the place to go if you have a rare and serious eye disease. Those with unusual eye conditions will often be examined by multiple ophthalmology residents and fellows, who are in training, under the supervision of a faculty member. Shiley has some brilliant faculty members, which is balanced by how appointments are often lengthy and navigating their administration may feel like a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles. For patients with a do-it-yourself (i.e., self-prescriptive mentality) with time to spare, if don’t mind serving as a teaching subject, an academic eye center may be right for you. A valuable resource provided to San Diegans by Shiley Eye Institute is after hours and weekend emergency eye care service. There is always an ophthalmologist on call, whom you can reach by calling the UCSD page operator at 619-543-6736.

Your Health Plan

The four dominant health care systems in San Diego are Scripps Health, Sharp HealthCare, Kaiser Permanente, and UCSD Health. You can schedule your eye care through your health care system. For non-emergency service, don’t be surprised if it takes up to several months to get your appointment. If you need cataract surgery or medical eye care for macular degeneration or glaucoma, staying in your health plan minimizes out-of-pocket costs. Each of these health care systems has excellent eye doctors. You can also have routine eye examinations by an optometrist within each of these health systems. The availability of specialized contact lens prescribing, and designer eyeglass frames may be limited, however. If you have a vision plan for routine care, such as Vision Service Plan, or EyeMed, you may be able to get a sooner appointment with excellent care and greater product choice by using your vision plan network instead of your major medical health plan.

What About ReVision Optometry?

If you wear glasses or disposable contact lenses, you probably do not need ReVision Optometry. Our practice concentrates on serving a small fragment of San Diego’s population with an eye disease called keratoconus. Most with keratoconus need custom scleral contact lenses to rehabilitate vision and restore normal life. Although our clinic provides routine eye examinations, this is usually more for the friends and family members of our existing keratoconus patients. There is a genetic predisposition for this eye disease. If you only need routine eye care, please consider scheduling with another clinic. Our highest and best civic engagement is helping those with keratoconus.

ReVision Optometry is a referral-based practice in San Diego providing scleral contact lens services for patients with keratoconus and other complex eye conditions. To schedule an appointment, request your examination online or call our office at 619.299.6064.