AOA complaints lead to changes in 1-800 Contacts business practice
Concerns over an online retailer's attempts to obtain patient health information through unscrupulous methods prompted AOA action resulting in changes to the company's business practice.
Following AOA meetings with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 1-800 Contacts discontinued use of a pre-checked box located at the bottom line of the company's contact lens order form that indicated authorization to act as the patient's agent in obtaining a complete copy of the patient's prescription. This removal of the pre-checked box puts control over a patient's prescription back in the consumer's hands.
The AOA maintained this pre-checked box put doctors of optometry in a difficult position in responding to retailers when many consumers were unaware 1-800 Contacts sought to act as their agent.
Earlier this year, doctors reported to AOA that they had begun receiving an influx of requests from 1-800 Contacts to obtain patients' complete prescriptions, as opposed to the common and familiar prescription verification requests. Doctors who contacted patients concerning irregularities in some of the requests were often told by patients that they had not intended to direct the retailer to request a copy of their prescription.
The AOA investigated this issue and reported concerns directly to FTC representatives from the division of Advertising Practices in May.
AOA issues FTC letter
In a follow-up letter sent to the FTC (member login required), AOA President Steven A. Loomis, O.D., built on the concerns raised in the face-to-face meeting with the FTC specifically outlining concerns with 1-800 Contacts' claims regarding patient authorization to obtain prescriptions and the implications of that process.
"With the use of the pre-checked boxes in small print on the contact lens order form, we believe that recent claims of patient agency by 1-800 Contacts rely on consumers being unaware that the retailer intends to act as their agent," Dr. Loomis wrote.
"We believe 1-800 Contacts has not made sufficient efforts to properly disclose to consumers their right to not provide agency to the retailer in order to obtain contact lenses."
Additionally, Dr. Loomis discussed the retailer's language contained within the pre-checked box that sought authorization to "validate existing and future orders" of contact lenses, an approach that could result in eye and vision health concerns if it is used to fill future orders for a prescription that is no longer valid, or to sell contact lenses to a patient counseled to stop wearing contact lenses altogether—issues that would likely be addressed using the normal verification process.
Advocacy results in changes
Several weeks after the letter was sent, the FTC notified AOA that the Commission would review our submission thoroughly to consider the issues raised, and as of Sept. 22, the 1-800 Contacts website was updated to reflect the concerns of AOA and its members.
In addition to discontinuing use of the pre-checked box, 1-800 Contacts also made specific changes that address the concerns AOA raised with the FTC. 1-800 Contacts:
- Moved the authorization box higher in the browser window, where it is clearly visible to a consumer without having to scroll.
- Replaced previous language that read, "Contact my eye care professional to obtain a copy of my written prescription to validate existing and future orders," with language that now reads, "Want future orders shipped even faster? Check this box to give 1-800 Contacts permission to obtain a copy of your prescription."
In addition to concerns about how contact lens prescription requests are being used, the AOA continues to receive reports from doctors regarding practices of online contact lens retailers that put patients' eye health at risk. Doctor reports of these incidents are critical to AOA's ability to advocate for policies that better protect patients and AOA urges doctors of optometry to continue to report issues related to claims of patient agency by retailers to AOA.
Please report any issues with online contact lens retailers to AOA's Associate Director for Coding and Regulatory Policy, Kara Webb, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Concerns with practices of online contact lens retailers also should be reported to the FTC through the FTC's online complaint system, which can be accessed at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
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