BY JOSEPH T. BARR, OD, MS, EDITOR,
AND MICHAEL G. HARRIS, OD, JD, MS
Last month we reviewed the potential illegal sale of contact lenses by some mail order and Internet contact lens vendors. This month we discuss what to do about it.
Your patients want their contact lens prescriptions, or a mail order or Internet firm wants your patients' prescriptions. Now what do you do? First of all, make sure you know your state law. In many states you must release the prescription, especially after you are sure the patient is adapted and successful in contact lens wear. Secondly, you should never release patient information, including a patient's contact lens prescription, without your patient's consent. We recommend issuing patient prescriptions directly to patients only. An exception might be made when the patient is in another practitioner's office, there is urgent need for information and the patient consents to having the information provided via fax or over the phone. Patient consent to release information should be in writing when possible and documented in the patient's record.
Educate your patients about costs of mail order and Internet contact lenses, including membership fees and shipping charges. Explain the need for ongoing vision care, not just the need for inexpensive lens replacement.
Practitioners should advise their patients to make sure that their contact lens prescriptions are valid, complete and accurate if they intend to use third-party dispensers. Practitioners should also advise their patients to call the office or return if they have questions or concerns about the prescription or about the care of their contact lenses, their wearing schedule or any other item concerning their contact lenses, their eyes or their vision.
Should practitioners withhold contact lens prescriptions from patients because of the potential for patients receiving improper lenses or advice from mail order or Internet companies? While many have made this argument, we believe that patients have a right to a copy of their valid contact lens prescriptions and a right to seek their lenses from any source that can legally supply them. Should governmental agencies (state boards, FTC, FDA) take action against a mail order or Internet contact lens company whose actions may not comport to applicable laws? Every day we see evidence of governmental agencies cracking down on companies that are allegedly violating state or federal law, including anti-trust laws and consumer protection laws. If the practices discovered in the January article are widespread, we can only ask when governmental agencies will step in to rectify a problem that may have potential serious consequences for the contact lens-wearing public.
If you observe an adverse reaction associated with mail order or Internet contact lenses, consider reporting it to the FDA at (301) 594-2735 or
Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: March 2001