ODs concerned about online contact lens reordering program

ODs concerned about online contact lens reordering program

AOA members have concerns that an online process VSP Vision Care uses to reorder contact lenses could potentially undermine the doctor-patient relationship.

"In the past, many VSP patients chose to order lenses through a VSP doctor and apply their VSP benefits to that order," says AOA Vice President Andrea P. Thau, O.D. Recently, patients have been hearing about a program for ordering lenses through an online portal known as Eyeconic through the vision plan's newsletters and emails.

"Contact lenses are medical devices. Patients need to undergo yearly comprehensive eye examinations to ensure that their lenses are fitting properly."

"As an online shopper, you should know about a new VSP Vision Care site for reordering contacts," reads one such VSP email brought to the attention of the AOA. The email informs patients that if they're unable to see their eye doctor, they can apply their VSP benefit directly to their online purchase "while keeping your doctor connected to the process."

VSP reimburses doctors for online orders
As VSP spokesman Pat McNeil explains, Eyeconic sent emails earlier this year to a small segment of VSP members who opted in to receiving communications.

The message in the email "positions Eyeconic as a convenient solution for those times VSP members can't get their shopping done at a VSP network provider's office. What makes Eyeconic different from other online stores is the connection to the patient's VSP network provider throughout the process. Not only does Eyeconic pay the VSP network provider, Eyeconic actively verifies each prescription," McNeil says.

Every payment to the VSP network provider is different, based on what product and lens options the patient orders. McNeil notes that VSP providers have access to a payment estimator to get a sense of how payments work.

ODs have concerns about VSP's process
Some ODs question how involved they would be in the process.

Dr. Thau, who practices in New York City, says the process appears to "bypass ordering contacts through their doctor," which could undermine her relationship with patients.

For instance, patients may perceive that if they want to use their VSP benefits, they need to go through the VSP Eyeconic website, she says.

When a patient forwarded one of VSP's notifications, "it was very disappointing," says AOA Trustee Robert C. Layman, O.D., who practices in Lambertville, Mich.

"Here was a vision plan with huge resources competing with me for the materials side of my patient services. The offer included a $50 credit for purchasing a one-year supply of contact lenses within 30 days of the notice. There also was a solicitation to use the patient's VSP benefit directly with Eyeconic for a glasses purchase online if they were 'too busy to see the eye doctor,' " he says.  

Dr. Thau emphasizes that contact lenses shouldn't be treated as a commodity. "Contact lenses are medical devices. Patients need to undergo yearly comprehensive eye examinations to ensure that their lenses are fitting properly. The patient also needs to be educated about the proper care and use of contact lenses by their doctor of optometry before ordering their contact lenses. A strong doctor-patient relationship helps to ensure compliance and good ocular health."

Marketing campaigns such as these could end up confusing doctors and patients alike, observes AOA President David A. Cockrell, O.D. "Based on what on our members have been reporting, it's a broken approach and needs to be fixed."

July 17, 2014

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