Are Online Retailers Violating FCLCA?


The "Final Rule" for the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) was established on July 2, 2004. As we all know, this Act requires optometrists, ophthalmologists, and dispensing opticians provide contact lens prescriptions to our patients upon completion of the contact lens fitting and finalization of the contact lens prescription. Specifically, the FTC states that a provider must:

  • "give a copy of the contact lens prescription to the patient at the end of the contact lens fitting – even if the patient doesn’t ask for it.

  • provide or verify the contact lens prescription to anyone who is designated to act on behalf of the patient, including contact lens sellers.

  • correct any inaccuracy in the prescription, inform the seller if it’s expired and specify the reason if it’s invalid. "

Additionally, "prescribers cannot require patients to:

  • buy contact lenses

  • pay additional fees or

  • sign a waiver or release in exchange for a copy of the contact lens prescription."

Nor can providers "disclaim liability or responsibility for the accuracy of an eye examination."

Of course this is nothing new to optometrists but I see a significant amount of consternation on social media from my colleagues about companies claiming to be able to streamline the process of obtaining contact lenses. Our first reaction (and I think the correct one) is to be concerned about the safety of the patients who choose this route of "refilling contact lens prescriptions". As a profession I think we need to continue to point out the patient safety issues surrounding unproven technologies and contact lens retailers who are looking to remove "bottlenecks" in the system. While we look at contact lenses as medical devices that can significantly benefit a patient's vision and quality of life, we also understand that there are potential risks if not fitted or monitored correctly. It would seem that the main goal of these companies is to ensure that there are minimal to no barriers to how much of a "product" they can sell to a "consumer".

One of the companies utilizing unproven technology to sell contact lenses is a company I will call "Easy Lenses" (not the real name of the company - on advice from attorneys). I recently took their "vision test" to see how their process worked. When I took this test, it appeared to me that there are many key aspects of the FCLCA that this company is either not aware of or blatantly ignoring.

Beyond the fact that the providers at "Easy Lenses" are clearly not meeting the standard of care (Justin Bazan did a nice article on this last year) when they prescribe contact lenses, it would seem that there are at least two potential violations to the FCLCA built into their system:

  1. "Easy Lenses" charges an "exam fee" for the vision test but there was not an option to obtain just the exam without purchasing contact lenses. In other words, "Easy Lenses" requires patients to purchase contact lenses in exchange for a copy of the contact lens prescription.

  2. "Easy Lenses" requires patients to acknowledge "yes" to the following question "Do you understand that this is a vision test only and not a substitute for a dilated eye health exam?" This would seem to be a "waiver of release" in exchange for a copy of the contact lens prescription. During the test, they actually state "waver signed" as part of the checklist process!

 

So, what do you think? Is this a violation of the FCLCA, or just savvy business practice? As many of you have done over the years, I have reported this to the FTC (using the companies real name) as a potential violation of the FCLCA. While the optimist in me is hopeful that they will act on this complaint, the realist in me suspects that they are not interested in ensuring compliance with this law.

You will all be glad to know that I received my box of contacts in the mail about 7 days later. You can rest assured that it was exactly the prescription that I (the consumer and patient) selected for myself for contact lenses that have never been evaluated on my eyes and with enough extra minus to give me a headache after a few minutes of wear!

I hope this spurs others to evaluate the clinical and business practices of these unproven technology companies to expose them for what they are doing. Have a great week - Chris