The AOA is working overtime for doctors of optometry and putting patient safety first—whether in the halls of Congress and state capitols or sharing the message of the indisputable and vital difference optometry makes to this country's health system.
The AOA works diligently to protect patient safety through vigilant advocacy and public awareness efforts.
"The reason you, and your patients, look to the AOA is due to our vigilance in protecting patient health and safety and our readiness to fight those who try to undermine optometry and the important care doctors of optometry deliver," says Andrea P. Thau, O.D., AOA president.
AOA calls for investigation of Hubble Contacts
The AOA has further intensified continued efforts to hold unscrupulous online contact lens sellers accountable, putting violators on notice that Americans' eye health and safety won't be risked for companies' profit margins.
Recently, an online, direct-to-consumer contact lens brand—Hubble Contacts—drew the AOA's attention with a pattern of deceptive and potentially illegal activities. The AOA sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Postal Service (USPS), demanding action against Hubble for the repeated, deliberate use of the internet and mail to market, and sell, contact lenses that were not prescribed by doctors, while concurrently failing to verify contact lens orders with customers' physicians.
As the AOA noted in these letters, Hubble not only sold lenses based on expired prescriptions and marketed their own product directly to consumers as the equivalent of other daily lens brands, but also employed a Taiwanese manufacturer, St. Shine Optical, previously flagged for subpar manufacturing processes by the FDA.
Additionally, the AOA requested that the DOJ investigate Hubble's Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA) violations as an organized and sustained deception scheme that represents an active threat to public health. So, too, AOA asked the USPS to investigate the deceptive tactics used to sell these medical devices through the mail, including potential mail fraud.
But Hubble is only the latest online seller to fall under AOA's scrutiny. This past October, the AOA instituted a 31 in 31 campaign to confront offending retailers: 31 letters issued to as many suspicious contact lens retailers over October's 31 days. These letters were copied to both the FDA and FTC, bolstering the case that change is needed under the current FCLCA and FTC's Contact Lens Rule.
Such a campaign wouldn't have been possible without vigilant action by AOA members to report violators at stopillegalCLs@aoa.org. This reporting hotline has helped AOA collect hundreds of instances whereby patients are harmed by illegal online contact lens sales, crucially bolstering AOA's case that online vendors undermine patient health safeguards of the FCLCA, and skirt the Contact Lens Rule.
Although sellers aggressively counter common-sense changes to contact lens regulations through the Coalition for Contact Lens Consumer Choice, federal authorities know the ilk they're dealing with as a leading coalition proponent, 1-800 Contacts, currently is called to task over anti-competitive market practices. An ongoing FTC case is reviewing allegations that 1-800 Contacts "unlawfully orchestrated a web of anti-competitive agreements" among other online contact lens sellers to suppress competition in advertising and mislead consumers.
Countering apps' misleading consumer messaging
Americans risk their eye health when prioritizing convenience ahead of quality, in-person care. These online "vision tests" tout "at-home ease" while providing only a rudimentary refractive assessment, and do nothing to detect or monitor patients for underlying medical conditions that could affect vision and overall health. That's why the AOA takes a resolute stance against such services that delay access to timely care.
These advocacy efforts begin with AOA's strategic public awareness that highlights the dangers of separating refractive tests from regular, in-person comprehensive eye examinations, and culminates in crucial consumer protection legislation among affiliates. Already 15 states have passed laws safeguarding consumers from dubious technology that can compromise well-accepted standards of care, while more advocate for the preservation of the doctor-patient relationship.
But it all starts with greater awareness.
In addition to AOA's formal complaint to the FDA over one such app, known as Opternative, and ongoing outreach among elected officials, the AOA also cautions the public against the toll of incomplete care.
Sending out the message about vital care from doctors of optometry
The AOA has aggressively and consistently put out the message to the media and patients that unscrupulous contact lens sellers and clinically unproven online eye tests can have dangerous health repercussions, all while continuing to educate about the important eye health and vision care doctors of optometry provide. And the message is getting through.
"During the past year, we have engaged with more media channels than ever before, fighting back against those who undermine doctors of optometry and patient safety, underscoring our priority messages, and positioning our profession and members as primary eye health care thought leaders," says Dr. Thau. "Because of this work, we continue to be sought by thought leaders and by the media—from CBS News to the Harvard Health Letter, while our attackers are forced to retreat with their messages to unknown and non-credible websites to try and peddle their false news."
Just this past August, ABC's "Good Morning America" reviewed Opternative's claims and validated the AOA's concerns that such an inadequate service poses a threat to patient health. In its "GMA Investigates" segment, a volunteer taking the refraction-only test was later found to have elevated intraocular pressure, a risk factor for glaucoma that went completely undetected by Opternative.
Since the "GMA Investigates" piece, numerous news outlets nationwide have replicated the Opternative review with many drawing the same conclusion—that the refraction-only exam is not only inaccurate compared to an in-person exam, but also misses significant ocular health symptoms or conditions. Moreover, the media often looks to their local doctors of optometry for their eye health expertise, further solidifying their role as trusted community resources.
The AOA has driven more than 1,000 media segments in outlets including GMA, Fox News, LiveScience, Morning Consult, The Hill, Prevention, Chicago Tribune, AARP The Magazine, and USA Today, among others. The resulting media coverage is grounded in the important care provided by doctors of optometry and has positioned the AOA and its doctors as trusted and sought-after sources for the media.
These efforts, combined with the incredible success of the AOA's Think About Your Eyes (TAYE) national advertising campaign, are paving the way for the growth of the profession and, most importantly, better patient health. Last year alone, 1.15 million more eye examinations were conducted and attributed to the public seeing or hearing a TAYE advertisement on television, radio or online. Those patients are accessing the more than 19,000 doctors of optometry—including 100% of doctors from 38 leadership state affiliates—listed on TAYE's online search tool at thinkaboutyoureyes.com.
What can doctors of optometry do?
- Attend AOA on Capitol Hill 2017 at Optometry's Meeting®, June 21-25, in Washington, D.C.
- Join the TAYE national advertising campaign. Monitor legislative developments in your state and others.
- Be active with your state affiliate. Contribute to the AOA's political action committee, AOA-PAC.
- Stay in conversation with your legislators year-round.
- Report deceptive contact lens activities or abuses to stopillegalCLs@aoa.org.
Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill, May 23-25, is open to all advocacy-minded doctors, optometry students and paraoptometrics. Learn the issues and get involved at optometry’s premier advocacy event.
As AOA advocates in new federal relief legislation and recognition of optometry’s ability to support the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine campaign, Ohio calls on volunteer doctors of optometry to assist.
Despite its name, the National Association of Optometrists and Opticians is a “front” for large optical retailers, working against the interests of doctors of optometry and comprehensive eye health care for patients, the AOA contends in a Jan. 5 letter sent to the Internal Revenue Service. Some companies are now taking steps to disassociate from the lobbying group and its recent actions.