Kentucky attorney general holds Warby Parker accountable for its online vision test

May 15, 2024
Enduring advocacy by the Kentucky Optometric Association regarding retailer’s online eye test shows results as its state attorney general reaches settlement with Warby Parker that results in a fine announced May 10.
The definition of accountable in book

Online retailer Warby Parker takes its online vision test offline and is fined in Kentucky in reaching a settlement announced May 10 with the state attorney general’s office—vindicating patient safety concerns raised by the Kentucky Optometric Association (KOA) three years ago.

The settlement, which alleges violation of the state’s Consumer Protection in Eye Care Act, calls for Warby Parker to pay a penalty of $138,000, which could be reduced to $55,200 if there are no further violations for five years. From July to October 2021, the office of Attorney General Russell Coleman alleged, 69 Kentucky residents were “improperly given” Warby Parker’s online vision test.

“We are incredibly pleased that the AG’s office has sent this strong message to protect the eye health of Kentuckians,” KOA President Leslie Cecil, O.D., says. “As optometrists, we are well aware of the concerns that our patients believe these online exams can take the place of in-person care. We are grateful that our elected leaders also recognize these risks for consumers and hold these companies accountable.

“This also reaffirms to our doctors that efforts to educate leaders about safety concerns with online exams do actually work,” Dr. Cecil says.

A check on Thursday of the Warby Parker website found the following content:

“Due to state-level regulations, these states are currently ineligible to use Virtual Vision Test: AK, DC, GA, ID, KY, NJ, NM, SC, SD, WA, WV.”

KOA supports consumer protection

The KOA threw its support behind passage of the state’s Consumer Protection in Eye Care Act in 2018, despite opposition at the time.

“We were met with a lot of pressure from outside companies and public concerns that we were thwarting technology,” Dr. Cecil recalls. “The KOA had to educate our legislative leaders about the concerns of patient safety, while also making sure that Kentuckians had appropriate access to technological advancements. Another very important piece at that time was educating the Kentucky attorney general, because that office was responsible for the enforcement of the Consumer Protection Law. As a result of these education efforts, the AG’s office was well-equipped to hold Warby Parker accountable for its violations.”

KOA: Warby Parker in violation of state law from get-go

Warby Parker’s online test debuted July 19, 2021, and just two days later, the KOA was asking the AG’s office to enforce the act.

“The company’s online exam did not meet the requirements we had worked hard to get in place in 2018,” Dr. Cecil says. “These requirements were included in our Consumer Protection law to protect patients who may use these types of online exams. The KOA immediately sent a formal request for enforcement by the attorney general.”

The law establishes safeguards and limitations on the use of automated or virtual equipment for assessing the eye and generating prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses.
In its letter to the AG, the KOA argued Warby Parker had failed to comply with requirements that:

  • Patients get an in-person comprehensive eye health exam within the previous 24 months before they take an online vision assessment.
  • Online assessments had not been reviewed by a Kentucky-licensed optometrist, ophthalmologist, osteopath or physician.
  • Patients’ identification be verifiable.
  • Specific disclosure statements to patients be completed before they take the online assessment.
  • The standards of appropriate care be the same online as those in traditional in-person clinical settings.

The KOA received routine status updates that the AG was taking appropriate steps, so it was hopeful that Warby Parker would be held accountable.

“We have often heard that a law is only good if it can be enforced,” Dr. Cecil says. “This is a great reminder to us all that we need to push for strong, enforceable legislation on behalf of our patients. States should also recognize the importance of grassroots relationships with the parties responsible for enforcement, not just the elected leaders that pass the legislation.

“This result is evidence of how doctors of optometry can successfully advocate for our patients and our profession when we leverage our record of safety and expertise to educate policymakers and other elected officials,” she says.

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