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Combating Online Contact Lens Sales

We must stand together to protect healthy vision and responsible enterprise.
By Andrea P. Thau, OD, AOA President

2/15/2017

 
Optometrists are fielding attacks from all sides—not simply on our profession, but actions that could ultimately fracture the doctor-patient relationship and potentially put our patients’ health at risk. Online contact lens retailers are primary and long-time aggressors who use deceptive practices, underhanded loopholes and, sometimes, blatantly illegal tactics to line their pockets and build their bottom lines.

Like other physicians, eye doctors take an oath and hold ourselves to the highest standards to protect our patients’ health. The oath guides the way we practice and compels us to advise patients of all their options to restore, maintain or enhance vision, as well as eye and overall health. We do this within a competitive marketplace bound by laws and regulations, which are constantly evolving as care advances.

Legislative Landscape
Unfortunately, the full picture of the 2016 contact lens legislative and regulatory landscape made it clear online contact lens retailers are using misinformation and subterfuge to divert attention away from their unscrupulous business practices and gain advantage in the marketplace.

The American Optometric Association (AOA), doctors of optometry and the patients we serve are gaining ground in the fight against these abusive and illegal practices. We’ve exposed deceptive tactics—such as 1-800-Contacts’ improper use of pre-checked order forms to obtain copies of customer contact lens prescriptions. This is further evidenced by the Federal government’s suit against 1-800-Contacts for alleged activities that “had the purpose, capacity, tendency and likely effect of restraining competition unreasonably and injuring consumers.”1

But along with wins, there are sometimes setbacks, and the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent proposed rule is just that.

The AOA vigorously objects to the FTC’s misguided proposal, which adds new prescription requirements to the Contact Lens Rule. The proposal makes clear that the agency is hearing from those who question whether doctors of optometry are following the law and does not take the illegal practices of some retailers into account.

With the active involvement of our member doctors, state optometric associations, concerned physicians, as well as public health and consumer protection organizations, we are making the case for changes and will not stop until our concerns are clearly understood by agency officials. This will not be a quick or easy process, but one the AOA will see through to the end.

A United Front

We need the involvement and activism of all of our colleagues to get this proposal changed. The FTC asked for public comments and is now considering the issue further.

Moreover, we need to hold internet sellers accountable, and the AOA and state optometric associations are leading the effort by aggressively building support for the bipartisan Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act. The bill calls for bolstering patient safety requirements, increasing accountability for internet contact lens sales and reinforcing the distinction that contact lenses are medical devices and should be treated that way—all of which the FTC should support.

The health and safety of the patients we serve is at the heart of this matter, and the AOA, along with member ODs, our paraoptometric colleagues and optometric students, will continue to fight for patient safety. For every doctor of optometry in America, the surest way to fight back against internet sellers and the harm they cause patients is to support the AOA and your state optometric association.

Our past advocacy efforts show that optometry is stronger when we all work together, and we ask every doctor to join in the fight with the AOA to uphold patient safety against online contact lens retailers and their profit-driven business practices.

Dr. Thau is president of the American Optometric Association (AOA). She was elected to the AOA Board of Trustees in 2007 and president in July 2016. Dr. Thau also serves as chair of the AOA’s Executive and Agenda Committees and is a member of the Personnel Committee. She serves as liaison trustee for the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) and the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD).

1. Federal Trade Commission. Complaint In the Matter of 1-800 Contacts, Inc., a corporation. August 8, 2016. Available at www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/160808_1800contactspt3cmpt.pdf. Accessed December 21, 2016.


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