AOA, affiliates continue to challenge online ‘exams’

AOA, affiliates continue to challenge online ‘exams’

Concerned for patients' health and safety, the AOA and state associations are actively combating misleading claims made by so-called "online eye exams" on multiple fronts.

"A patient's eye health should not be compromised for either price or convenience."

While online programs tout consumer convenience, albeit with ambiguous and sometimes inaccurate claims, the AOA contends there are severe pitfalls in separating refractive tests from annual comprehensive eye exams performed in-person by an eye care professional.

This message is being reinforced at every level by educating the public, news media, health providers and government officials, including state legislators and attorneys general, members of Congress, and medical device regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"The AOA continually monitors and advocates for the public in many areas," says AOA Immediate Past-President David A. Cockrell, O.D. "We are concerned where violations of Federal or state law might exist. The AOA and our state associations will be monitoring and pressing for enforcement of all regulations and statutes. If state or federal laws need to be clarified or more specific to better protect the public, we will advocate in every arena for passage."

Reaching out to ophthalmology
With patient health and safety at stake as never before, and some "online eye exams" relying on a network of affiliated ophthalmologists as prescribers, Dr. Loomis sent a letter to the president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) to also make a stand.

Dr. Loomis called on the AAO to rebuke the dangerously misleading product claims made by "online eye exams" and work alongside the AOA to safeguard public health and healthy vision.

"Given the insidious nature of this threat to public health and the central role of ophthalmologists in the health care claims connected to it, I ask you to join me in educating your member ophthalmologists and the public about these substandard models of care," Dr. Loomis' letter states (login required).

Affiliates contest online exam business in Illinois, Michigan
Days after an "online eye exam" service, calling itself Opternative, launched in its state, the Illinois Optometric Association (IOA) challenged the company's business model as a direct violation of the Illinois Optometric Practice Act.

Michael Horstman, IOA executive director, penned a letter to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, alleging the "online eye exam" company is practicing optometry without a license on the basis that Illinois law defines a practicing optometrist as one who:

  1. Performs refractions or employs any other determinants of visual function.

  2. Prescribes corrective lenses, prism.

  3. Practices or offers or attempts to practice optometry as defined by (the practice act) either on his or her own behalf or as an employee of a person, firm or corporation whether under the supervision of his or her employer or not.

The letter states, furthermore, the company's "advertising would appear to mislead the patient ... they claim to be equivalent to a doctor-delivered eye exam when, in fact, what they are doing is but one component of such exam." Horstman says new technology cannot come at the expense of patients.

"We believe that a patient's eye health should not be compromised for either price or convenience, and we will take whatever steps are needed to ensure that this doesn't happen," Horstman says. "We are hopeful that the State of Illinois will agree and take appropriate action."

But Illinois isn't the only state taking action—the Michigan Optometric Association (MOA) also contested Opternative in a letter to the state's licensing and regulatory affairs department. That letter argues the service is in violation of Michigan's Eye Care Consumer Protection Act, as Opternative "prescriptions" do not constitute a valid constitution under state law. 

The MOA states: "It appears that the exam is 'performed' by a computer and the ophthalmologist simply signs off on a computer generated prescription without ever actually examining the patient ... as a result, any prescription issued via Opternative will have no value to the patient."

The letter also requests the state department issue a cease and desist order against the company from providing "online eye exams" to patients in Michigan. 

Click here to read how another state association challenged a mobile refractive service.

Campaign reaches tens of millions
Although "online eye exams" might draw a few headlines, it's AOA's leadership role in an ongoing, eye health public awareness campaign that's getting noticed.

The importance of annual comprehensive eye exams and full-scope care provided by doctors of optometry has reached tens of millions of Americans on more than 20 primetime cable TV networks, drive-time radio, Internet radio and digital ads through the Think About Your Eyes Campaign (TAYE).

In the past year, TAYE—with ads presented by the AOA—helped increase eye exams by more than 8 percent with millions of prospective patients searching the TAYE website and locating AOA members.

Click here to learn more about AOA member pricing for the TAYE practice locator.

August 5, 2015

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