Putting Patient Care at Risk? Federal Trade Commission Proposes Changes to Contact Lens Rule

Late in 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed changes to the Contact Lens Rule. The revisions would require contact lens prescribers (of which the majority are optometrists) to obtain a signed acknowledgment form after giving a patient their contact lens prescription. Furthermore, if the proposed rule were enacted, prescribers would have to maintain these acknowledgments for at least three years. The FTC suggests that the proposed changes will “promote competition” and “enhance consumer choice,” but it begs the question, at what cost?

The very wording of the revisions suggests that retailers view contact lens users as consumers, not patients. We must not forget that contact lenses are indeed regulated medical devices, and as such, should require careful evaluation of how contact lenses fit on patients’ eyes and how they affect the ocular surface and ocular adnexa. We’ve all seen cases of contact-lens-use-gone-bad due to patients neglecting eye care when using contact lenses, an unfortunate event that occurs all too often and is made worse when online sellers believe it is justified to sell contact lenses to patients without proper contact lens care and follow-up. If optometrists are held to the high standards of ensuring the ocular health of our contact lens patients, why aren’t contact lens sellers held to the same standard?

The proposed changes to the Contact Lens Rule also allow for online contact lens sellers to sell contact lenses to patients if a prescriber does not communicate with the seller within eight business hours of receiving a verification request. It does not take a genius to realize that having eight hours to respond to a verification request is unreasonable, especially for doctors who deal with seeing patients and run busy practices throughout the day.

Fortunately, the American Optometric Association (AOA) has opposed the proposed changes and has been a voice for optometry and patients in conversations with the FTC. The advocacy of the AOA mobilized thousands of doctors and students at AOA+ in June 2017 to support the efforts to stop a flawed and costly scheme which increases doctor workload and enables retailers to have greater access to manipulate the sales of medical devices. This lends more reason for the importance of supporting your state and national organized optometry associations. With all of our support, the AOA will continue to fight for patient care and doctor-patient relationships. Click here and here to read the formal comments submitted by the AOA regarding the Contact Lens Rule.

Contact lens on finger

For more background information, the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA) is a law that has been in place since 2004 requiring optometrists (or other eye care providers) to release contact lens prescriptions to their patients. Unfortunately, online contact lens sellers have found ways to exploit loopholes in the law and have adopted shady, deceitful tactics to market contact lenses to patients and undermine the importance of comprehensive eye examinations. One such tactic used by a company included the use of a pre-checked box authorizing the company to act as a patient’s agent in order to receive a copy of a patient’s prescription. Shortly after AOA conversations with the FTC, the company was forced to edit its website and discontinue the use of pre-checked boxes. These actions demonstrate the changes that can occur if optometrists stand together as a united voice fighting for patient care. In other words, this is a prime example of how advocacy can lead to positive change.

For a list of resources, including information on how to report illegal contact lens sales, click here.

We hear time and time again that optometry is a legislated profession. The FTC’s proposed revisions to the Contact Lens Rule and the devious sales methods used by online contact lens vendors show the importance of organized optometry, and how important it is for optometrists and optometry students alike to get involved and take action for the benefit of our patients’ well-being and eye care nationwide. The ocular health of contact lens patients should not take a backseat to misguided legislation, nor to online contact lens vendors’ sales and profits.

For an overview on the AOA’s role in the proposed changes to the Contact Lens Rule and FCLCA, click here.

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About Chris Lopez

A fourth year OD/MS student at the University of Houston College of Optometry, Chris holds multiple positions with OptometryStudents.com: Director of Academy Relations, Executive Editor, and Executive Journalist. He is President of Beta Sigma Kappa, Past-National Liaison of the American Optometric Student Association, and is completing his thesis on new diagnostic tests for ocular surface disease. In his personal time, Chris enjoys playing guitar and spending time with his wife Samantha. 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-lopez-a5952058/

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