AOA: Opternative’s doc locator appears to falsely imply endorsement
An online vision test's misleading claims might lead consumers to unwittingly forego proper eye care—and this same kind of ambiguous language also could give the false impression of doctors' endorsement.
This concern headlines a supplementary complaint raised by the AOA in a new letter sent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Oct. 23, regarding the online vision test service, Opternative. AOA President Steven A. Loomis, O.D., reaffirmed AOA's initial request for a full investigation of Opternative's misleading claims connected to the unproven use of a medical device, and reported a further questionable practice—namely, the use of a doctor locator function on the business's website and its ambiguous wording.
The "find a doctor" page allows registered users to enter their zip code to view a list of nearby eye doctors. The page states: "Can't find an eye care provider in your area? We're adding hundreds of providers to our database every day, so check back with us soon," followed by, "Want to join our eye care provider list? Join our telehealth team at Opternative.com/doctors."
The AOA argues this wording gives users the impression that listed doctors are members of Opternative's "telehealth team," when a number of doctors of optometry listed on the site say they never sought nor desired inclusion in any panel selected by or connected to Opternative.
"The AOA believes that Opternative is claiming alliance to a large network of eye care providers, without their knowledge, to give the appearance of endorsement of its unapproved device," Dr. Loomis states in this most recent FDA letter.
"(The AOA demands) Opternative cease and desist from using the names of unaffiliated eye doctors to bolster the credibility of its unproven and unapproved device without the express consent of those doctors."
In a letter to AOA members on Oct. 26, Dr. Loomis offered an update on the current efforts to apprise the FDA of Opternative's claims and practices, and thanked the Mississippi Optometric Association for their state-level enforcement work that helped uncover this business practice that might confuse consumers.
AOA, state affiliates continue work to safeguard consumers
Convenience is the buzzword that online vision tests, such as Opternative, tout to consumers with subjective, at-home digital assessments. But that refraction is only 1 of 12 parts of an objective, comprehensive eye examination. Even then, the results produced by Opternative's online vision test may produce an inaccurate prescription, as highlighted by one doctor's experience that he shared with attendees of the recent 2015 AOA State Legislative and Third Party National Conference in Denver, Colorado.
The AOA and state affiliates continue to educate the public, news media and government officials on the dangers of separating refractive tests from annual comprehensive eye exams performed in person by an eye care professional, and the misleading claims that prevent consumers from seeking proper eye and vision care.
Read more about these efforts to challenge online vision tests, and how the Federal Trade Commission already has taken action in a similar case of potentially misleading claims from an online service.
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The advocacy collaborative fighting for patient safety and the doctor-patient relationship reports on a productive 2020, despite COVID-19 challenges, and recently welcomed Alcon as its newest member.
At Nov. 17 FDA workshop, doctors of optometry warn of a lack of communication regarding the safety of online vision tests. The AOA, which continues to educate the public on these mobile apps and to hold them accountable, offers its expertise.