Washington, DC - Seeing is believing. And last week, the FTC reminded eye doctors – in writing – about their legal responsibilities under the agency’s Eyeglass Rule. The rule requires you to provide a copy of the prescription to the patient at the end of the eye exam, even if the patient doesn’t request it. You  should also not ask patients if they want their prescription. The prescription should be given to them automatically.

The FTC has received complaints that some eye doctors – ophthalmologists and optometrists – may not be in compliance. In fact, FTC staff recently sent 38 letters to eye doctors, warning them of potential violations.

The Rule defines a prescription as “the written specifications for lenses for eyeglasses which are derived from an eye examination, including all of the information specified by state law, if any, necessary to obtain lenses for eyeglasses.”

Many states require the prescription to include:

  • The patient’s name;
  • The date of the patient’s exam and/or when the prescription was issued;
  • When the prescription expires; and
  • Your name, contact information, and signature.

You also may want to include the patient’s pupillary distance. In some states, you are required to do so. If your patient wants to buy glasses online, they’ll need that measurement. Also, the prescription should be legible and complete.

Specific prohibitions under the rule include requiring a patient to buy eyeglasses, pay a fee, or sign a form or waiver before providing a prescription. Those practices were cited in the FTC’s warning letters as potential rule violations. Breaking the rule could result in civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.

Of course, it’s fine to charge for an eye exam. However, the only way you can require a patient to pay for the eye exam before giving a copy of the prescription is if you require immediate payment from all eye exam patients.

You may charge an additional fee for verifying eyeglasses dispensed by another seller, but the fee may only be charged when the verification is performed.

By the way, here’s the answer to a common question: HIPAA does not prohibit the release of an eyeglass prescription to a patient.

If you have more questions, check out Complying with the Eyeglass Rule. We also have information for consumers about Prescription Glasses and Contact Lenses.