The AOA continues to go to bat for doctors of optometry by seeking to inform state and federal officials, as well as retailers, about the importance of compliance with essential contact lens safeguards.
Last year, the AOA instituted a 31-in-31 campaign to educate retailers: Thirty-one letters were sent to as many contact lens retailers over 31 days. In April 2017, these letters were copied to both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), bolstering the case that change is needed under the current Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) and the FTC's Contact Lens Rule. The letters educated the retailers about the requirements for safe and legal sales of contact lenses and pointed out to the FDA and FTC those retailer practices that appeared to run counter to the requirements of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) and the FTC's Contact Lens Rule.
The 31-in-31 campaign, which the AOA will repeat next month, 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 of potentially illegal contact lens sales, crucially bolstering AOA's case that some 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.
In mid-September, the AOA sent another communication to the FTC regarding Hubble Contacts, a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand, after receiving new and additional reports of possible irregularities related to prescription verifications for its contact lenses. In the letter, the AOA renewed its call for an investigation by the agency, which is tasked with enforcing the Contact Lens Rule.
Following an article published in April of this year describing AOA's advocacy efforts regarding industry compliance with laws and regulations applicable to contact lens sales, Hubble Contacts accused the AOA of defaming Hubble Contacts and demanded that the AOA publish a retraction. AOA refuses this demand and has continued to alert regulators to new and relevant information.
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.
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.
Over the past year, the AOA has engaged with more media channels than ever before. 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?
- Report deceptive contact lens activities or abuses to stopillegalCLs@aoa.org.
- 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 contact with your legislators year-round.
Despite a vocal few denouncing gains in optometric care, the profession defines itself through the everyday application of quality clinical care, reinforced by optometry’s advocates’ vigilant outreach.
AOA Board of Trustees adopts recommendations from its Telehealth Council, which received input from leaders in eye health and vision care, technology, artificial and augmented intelligence and telemedicine platforms.
The public-facing alert encourages consumers to ask discerning questions about online vision tests before entrusting their eye health care to a direct-to-consumer service.