A victory lap for accountability

January 29, 2020
AOA advocacy hit a metaphorical home run in 2019 and will continue asking regulators to hold companies accountable when patients’ health is at stake.
Barbara L. Horn, O.D.

Excerpted from page 5 of the January/February 2020 edition of AOA Focus.

In professional baseball, players who take a slow trot around the basepaths after hitting towering home runs are sometimes frowned upon. They're accused of showing off—and showing up the other team.

AOA advocacy hit a metaphorical home run in 2019. And I, for one, am not going to apologize for celebrating our success.

Complaint letters from the AOA have always meant more than the benign-looking ink, paper and envelope in which they are sent. Indeed, our letters—reflecting fiercely advocated positions thoroughly and thoughtfully drawn from consensus by passionate AOA volunteers, relentless advocacy staff and steady-handed Board of Trustees members—proved mightier than the sword. AOA letters not only carry the weight and responsibility of the safety and health interests of our patients, but also embody the vision of our 46,000-strong membership, including doctors of optometry, optometric professionals and optometry students.

While the AOA is not a regulatory enforcement agency, we've always taken very seriously our role as a reliable, honest resource to the public for information on safe eye and vision care. Take the February 2019 letter we sent to e-commerce giant Amazon, pointing out that vendors on its website were selling contact lenses without requiring prescriptions, which the AOA argued was a violation not only of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act but also the company's own policy. In a subsequent letter on the subject, Amazon thanked the AOA for its diligence. By June 4, Amazon had removed those violating products first identified and reported by the AOA.

And our March 2019 letter to the Federal Trade Commission regarding 1-800 Contacts' online vision test, ExpressExam. Not long after, 1-800 Contacts changed how it marketed the online vision test to ensure consumers would understand the difference between the online eye test and a comprehensive eye examination.

Sometimes it takes time to see the results of our advocacy efforts. Perhaps no AOA complaint letter of recent memory generated, in the end, as much public awareness as the one we first sent in 2016 regarding Visibly (formerly Opternative) and its online vision test. That expansive letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) argued that patients were being put at risk by Visibly's marketing and that the company was not in compliance with federal medical device and patient safety laws. It took three years but Visibly, under scrutiny by the FDA and the AOA, removed its online test from its website. I'll always remember when (August 2019) and where I was (in the office) when I got that news. On social media, our supportive members and our occasional critics gave us our due.

Some may say we shouldn't be tooting our own horn. But I thoroughly disagree. Who else better reflects the voice of safe eye care—for patients and doctors—than the AOA?

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