I know many optometrists who still try to avoid releasing a contact lens prescription - especially if they don't like the business practices of the firm who is trying to obtain the Rx. But whether the request comes from a long-time patient, an ethical colleague, or a contact lens retailer that you consider unethical, the way your office handles the request can have a huge effect on retaining the patient (and his family) who is on the verge of changing providers.
It's easy to simply not respond to a fax or voice message requesting verification of a contact lens Rx, but not responding is the surest way to facilitate the lens sale to your patient. If you don't do anything, within a certain time period, mail order companies will definitely sell the lenses without a valid prescription. There is nothing to stop them from doing so - there are no legal repercussions. But if you call or fax back a statement that says the prescription has expired (assuming that is the case, which it often is or the patient would be obtaining them from your office), some mail order sellers will actually stop the order filling process and advise the patient to visit his eye care professional. This is a fairly recent change, and a major step in the right direction. All we can ask of any contact lens seller is that they honor all aspects of a doctor's prescription.
Large mail order and Internet contact lens retailers are slowly beginning to require valid contact lens prescriptions, and they are beginning to honor expiration dates, number of multipacks to dispense, and to even foster Rx renewals via re-examination. Much of the credit for this positive change goes to Vistakon, and the recent agreement they formed with 1-800 Contacts (you can view it at http://ecp.acuvue.com/ecp2/communication_to_ecps/Vistakon-and-1800CONTACTS-letter.html ). Vistakon happens to be a major sponsor of this e-newsletter, but that is not why I offer this praise. Vistakon has provided significant resources to negotiate an agreement that requires 1-800's compliance with Rx validity, and they have pledged more resources to continue to monitor 1-800's business operations to confirm ongoing cooperation. It is very important for 1-800 to maintain it's account status with Vistakon, so I believe they will comply.
When you think about it, mail order contact lens sellers are actually helping you when they try to verify a CL Rx that has expired. They have just alerted you to a patient of yours who needs a new supply of contact lenses and who needs an eye exam. It would seem pretty basic that this would be a good opportunity for your staff to call this patient, acknowledge the request for the Rx and that it has expired, and recommend a re-examination.
Patients have a right to their contact lens Rx once the fitting is complete, and if they are current with regular exams. Making it difficult for them to obtain that Rx is a sure way to lose the patient. We can successfully compete with mail order retailers if they follow the same rules we do concerning prescription validity.
Next week, I'll provide more tips to consider for contact lens release policies in your practice.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management