Did you know that, if you go to an eye doctor for a prescription or contact-lens fitting, he or she is bound by law to provide you with the prescription, and can’t make you buy any products (other than paying for the exam) as a condition of getting it?
I confess I was unaware of that, as are many consumers. And since I’ve dealt with ophthalmologists and optometrists most of my life, I have found this group of people to be among the most caring, competent and compassionate health care professionals out there. But — at least according to some consumers — a few of them may have violated a law known as the Eyeglass Rule.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission sent letters to 38 prescribers, warning them of alleged potential violations of the rule. While the FTC released the contents of the letter, it didn’t say to which prescribers it was sent, or their locations. Failure to abide by this rule can result in stiff fines and penalties, including fines of up to $16,000 per violation. But in each case, consumers had complained to the FTC that they had not gotten a copy of their prescription.
“We are writing to inform you that such a practice would violate the FTC’s Ophthalmic Practice Rules, 16 C.F.R. Part 456, known as the Eyeglass Rule, which requires prescribers to provide a copy of the eyeglass prescription immediately after the eye examination, even if the patient does not request it, and prohibits prescribers from requiring that patients buy eyeglasses as a condition of providing a copy of the prescription,” noted the lengthy missive from Mary K. Engle, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices.
The Eyeglass Rule not only requires the eye doctor to provide you with a copy of your prescription, it also specifies what must be in the prescription, such as your name; the date of the exam; when it was issued and when it expires; the doctor’s name, address, phone number and fax number. Here in the Magnolia State, the Mississippi State Board of Optometry is tasked with enforcing state law, which gives additional detailsabout what must appear on the prescription. For glasses and contact lenses, the prescription must include a variety of scientific measurements such as sphere power, cylinder and axis power, and other terms that likely won’t be familiar to you unless you’ve worn glasses or contacts.
Once you have the prescription, you can take it and use it anywhere, including using it to buy glasses or contacts from an online provider or discounter. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean the exam has to be free; optometrists are allowed to charge you normal and customary fees, as long as they are charged to all patients, regardless of whether they need a prescription.
Caring for our eyes is a lifelong commitment; if you’re blessed with great vision, be thankful. But the sense of sight is so important to us that it’s worth the time to make sure everything’s OK.
For more information about what to expect from a visit to the eye doctor, the National Institutes of Health has some good advice on its website athttp://nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/eyeexam.