OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

It’s Time Everyone Is Accountable in Vision Care

Most people’s biggest health fear is losing their vision. From babies to seniors, people rely on their vision for reading, driving, sports, work — nearly everything they do during waking hours. Our eyes have to last us a lifetime. When I see a patient who can’t see as well as normal or has pain or vision loss, I understand their anxiety. It becomes my responsibility to provide them with the best care to protect, preserve and enhance their vision.

What I can’t understand are companies who don’t hold themselves to the same accountability, potentially causing patients more harm than good.

When I prescribe contact lenses — FDA-regulated medical devices — I work meticulously with my patients to assess their vision and eye health to prescribe the correct contact lens that will meet their visual needs, be comfortable and maintain their health. My patients and I expect that whoever fills that prescription takes the same care to assure it is filled accurately. Unfortunately, some retailers do not hold themselves to the same standards.

They undermine care by selling contact lenses without prescriptions or even shipping contact lenses of an incorrect prescription. And regrettably, patients suffer for it. Nearly every reported case of adverse events due to the improper use of contact lenses was the result of lenses bought without a valid and current prescription.

At a time when we are laser-focused on patient-centered care, bills that protect patient health are crucial.

Patient well-being is at the heart of the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (S. 2777), introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and John Boozman (R-AR). The bill, which is supported by the American Optometric Association, along with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, AdvaMed – Advanced Medical Technology Association, American Association of Diabetes Educators, Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety and the Contact Lens Institute, simply seeks more effective federal enforcement of contact lens patient health and prescription verification safeguards by holding contact lens sellers accountable for their sales methods, especially those that can cause harm and result in added health care costs.

Just last week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed suit against 1-800 Contacts, the largest online retailer of contact lenses in the United States, asserting that the company has misled consumers and caused higher prices. Although a crackdown on illegal online sales tactics is certainly needed, it’s essential to also ensure that our laws are strong and up to date enough to protect patients from other, more harmful abuses that could place their health and, potentially, their vision at risk.

The bill strengthens the 2003 Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act to ensure retailers dispense prescriptions exactly as written and communicate effectively with prescribers like me about the accuracy of patients’ prescriptions and address any issues. These requirements are common sense actions to maintain the quality continuum of care our patients expect, yet have been regularly ignored and abused by some sellers.

As misinformation about this bill is spread, it is critical to understand the facts:  

  • The proposed guardrails put the patient first. S. 2777 establishes a live patient safety hotline that allows doctors to provide sellers with patient health information and ensures the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship. It also guarantees contact lenses are dispensed exactly as the prescription is written by the doctor.  
  • Some retailers use underhanded tactics. Internet retailers use loopholes that allow them to avoid verification and sometimes ship the wrong contact lenses. By banning use of disruptive, automated “robo calls” for verifying patient prescription information and enabling doctors to choose live phone calls or emails from sellers, they can preserve the continuum of care and deliver vital patient information.  
  • We provide our patients with copies of their prescriptions in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s Contact Lens Rule so that patients can choose where they purchase their contact lenses.
  • There are serious potential negative consequences for patients. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are nearly 1 million emergency room and urgent doctor visits and about $175 million in added annual health care costs arising from keratitis, an infection linked to improper contact lens wear.

The AOA and the broader Coalition applaud Sens. Cassidy and Boozman for their support of the Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act and for making patient safety and quality of care a priority.

As an eye doctor, I am accountable for the care I provide my patients. This bill is simply making the retailers who provide contact lenses for patients just as accountable.

Andrea P. Thau, OD, is president of the American Optometric Association.

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