Choosing Our Words Carefully
BY JASON J. NICHOLS, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
I'm not sure whether you've realized or thought much about it, but many of us often use the term "product" when we discuss contact lenses, care solutions and rewetting agents. We often use the term casually in this journal. I recently had an in-depth discussion with a good colleague and friend about eyecare practitioners using this term. He argued very strongly against its use. His point: we never use "product" when referring to pharmaceutical agents. I've heard from other colleagues that the term is offensive to many in our field. With these conversations in mind, I recently researched the word so that I could better understand the rationale for and against its use as it relates to lens wear and care.
The noun "product" comes from the Latin word productum. As far as I can tell, there are several potential (non-chemical or mathematical) variations on its definition. Below are a few, with a source of the definition:
1. Something produced by nature or made by human industry or art (Webster's).
2. A good or service which can be bought and sold (Wikipedia).
3. In marketing, a product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need, while in retailing, products are thought of as merchandise (Wikipedia).
We know that contact lenses are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as medical devices and are available only by prescription. Solutions and rewetting agents are likewise regulated, but are available without prescription. While contact lenses are certainly marketed and sold, they're not regularly available to all consumers for purchase.
It's less clear when you consider solutions and lubricants. We like to "prescribe" these to our patients, yet they're available to anyone walking into a store. And, when you stop to consider whether other medical professions have the same considerations, dentistry quickly comes to mind. Would you consider toothpaste and mouthwash "products" from a consumer standpoint? What if you were a dentist?
I believe that consumer impressions should drive our clinical practice to maintain the highest professional standard. If we refer to contact lenses as products, we may be projecting an image that they're in some way harmless, requiring no care or oversight. Perhaps you will stop to consider this the next time you discuss contact lenses or care "products" with your patients.