American Academy of Ophthalmology endorses consumer health effort to protect patients
WASHINGTON - The American Academy of Ophthalmology is supporting a proposal introduced recently in Congress to protect safety for millions of patients who require contact lens prescriptions. The Academy believes that the Contact Lens Consumer Health Act (S. 2777) is a much-needed update to existing prescribing laws that would make significant strides in ensuring patient safety. It would combine strong patient health protections with assurances that consumers continue to receive their contact lenses in a timely manner.
Introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., this legislative proposal would improve the means for communication between vendors and physician prescribers. It would also open new avenues for a health care professional to respond to verification requests, including email. It would also increase penalties for those who break the law by selling lenses without a prescription, a practice that frequently endangers the vision health of Americans.
The need for stronger regulation of those filling contact lens prescriptions is very real. Nearly 41 million U.S. adults wear contact lenses. This results in nearly one million health care visits annually for cornea inflammation or other lens complications. This costs our nation’s health care system $175 million per year.
The Academy is supporting this legislation because its member physicians and surgeons treat thousands of patients with potentially blinding corneal eye ulcers each year. Many of these cases result from poor-fitting contacts acquired through loopholes in the current law that enable them to be sold without a verified prescription.
“The Academy has long-sought a legislative fix to existing laws that could preserve patient health through stronger contact lens prescription policies,” said Michael X. Repka, M.D., medical director for government affairs for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “This proposal maintains access to these medical devices, but it also adds protection for patients from serious eye injuries that can occur if a contact lens doesn’t properly fit the eye.”
Providing contact lenses without a prescription can result in a poorly fitted device, which is a serious problem in eye care. All medical devices, which include contact lenses, must be uniquely configured or fitted to each patient to ensure optimal performance and safety.
The Academy recommends obtaining a valid prescription and eye exam from either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.
“We witness first-hand at my clinic the issues that patients can experience due to the process for obtaining contact lenses not being as stringent as that of other medical devices,” said Thomas L. Steinemann, M.D., the Academy’s representative on a contact lens safety workgroup that includes the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other stakeholders. “We think it is imperative that people have an accurate, up-to-date contact lens prescription, not only for vision, but also the overall health of your eye.”
The current law only requires a contact lens vendor to seek verification from an eye care professional during an eight-hour window. After the window closes, the vendor can fill the prescription, even if it hasn’t been verified.
A recent analysis conducted by Dr. Steinemann’s practice in Cleveland highlighted the myriad of issues with prescription verification requests from online vendors. The vast majority of these requests had problems. Many prescriptions were either incorrect, expired or for patients who were not fit for lenses at that clinic. Some patients had never completed the fitting process.
The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act would address these issues. It would prevent sellers from filling a prescription if a prescriber raises health and safety concerns within the eight-hour verification window. It would also require sellers to provide eye health professionals with a working toll-free number or email address for more efficient communication during the verification process.
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, we protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public. We innovate to advance our profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. Our EyeSmart® program provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit www.aao.org.
# # #