Examining a New Law
New federal laws promote fairness to contact lens
consumers, but what about those who fit them?
WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O., Chief Optometric Editor
I've read the federal government documents pertaining to the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act and I suggest you do the same. You can access the original documents at
Before and after February 4, 2004 all of us who have anything to do with contact lenses have been discussing the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act in an effort to better understand what is required of us as practitioners as well as what is required of the "sellers" of contact lenses. One of the issues raised in a recent discussion is relative to the use of the word "fairness." Does this imply that before this act there has been "unfairness"?
It seems that every point presented in the ruling by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) focuses on what's best for the consumer (who we refer to as the patient). We've always been concerned about our patients receiving the best level of professional care as well as being treated fairly in any business dealings with our practice, so it would seem that the Fairness Act does nothing more than present an accountability to those of us involved in the fitting and sale of contact lenses.
Holding ourselves accountable
For years we've wondered about the contact lens labeling that reads, "Federal law restricts this device to sale by or on the order of a licensed practitioner." We all knew that this "law" and whoever was supposed to be dealing out the justice when it was violated was a joke. In fact, it's interesting that the Contact Lens Rule (as the FTC now refers to it) has come to be as a result of complaints from the very entities that blatantly violated the "federal law" requiring that contact lenses be "sold by or on the order of a licensed practitioner."
So here we are: optometrists, ophthalmologists and in some states, opticians licensed to fit and sell contact lenses, realizing that what's fair for consumers isn't always what's best for patients. We've gone through a licensing process as healthcare providers in the states in which we practice, we've passed both national and state board examinations to demonstrate proficiency in patient care that includes when and when not to fit or prescribe contact lenses. Healing arts boards in every state hold us accountable for our professional performance and professional ethics.
Share your opinions
So where's the accountability for sellers of contact lenses who aren't licensed healthcare providers yet are now involved in the contact lens process? Where are their state or national board exams held? What is the education and clinical training process they go through? Some argue that releasing a contact lens prescription is the same thing as releasing a prescription for a prescribed medication, but it isn't. Pharmacists are trained, licensed and regulated by healing arts boards in every state. The individuals or entities that are Internet- or toll-free-number-based contact lens sellers aren't. Shouldn't any person or entity that provides healthcare and medical devices to the public have to be certified and licensed? Shouldn't these entities be required to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency just as we all have?
In its ruling, the FTC seeks fairness for contact lens wearers as consumers; it doesn't seek to undermine the clinical authority of optometrists in making medically related decisions about what's best for your patient. Patient retention is a function of service and patient education; consumer retention is a function of not only price, but convenience and the understanding what your practice offers what other entities can't.
Again, I urge you to read the Federal Trade Commission's ruling and send constructive comments in the form of ASCII format, WordPerfect or Microsoft Word attachments.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. In the comments section of your message include the following: Contact Lens Rule, project #R411002. Get your comments in before April 5, 2004. If you make no attempt to comment now, don't complain later.
Optometric Management, Issue: March 2004