Washington, DC - Today, we’re turning the table on some healthcare professionals. Don’t worry. We’re not asking an anesthesiologist to count back from ten, or even telling an ENT to say “ah.” We’re offering an eye exam for eye doctors:

Unfortunately, some eye doctors and eye care professionals aren’t passing the exam. In fact, FTC staff recently sent more than 50 letters to contact lens prescribers and sellers, warning they are potentially breaking the agency’s Contact Lens Rule. The rule, and the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, require prescribers to provide a copy of the prescription to the patient at the end of the contact lens fitting, even if the patient doesn’t request it.

Here’s what should be in the prescription:

  • The patient’s name
  • The date of the exam
  • When the prescription was issued, and when it expires
  • The name, postal address, and phone number of the eye care prescriber (it’s a good idea to include your fax number, too)
  • The power, material and/or manufacturer of the prescribed lens
  • The base curve or appropriate designation of the lens
  • The diameter of the lens, when appropriate

If you’re prescribing private label lenses, the prescription should include the name of the manufacturer, the brand name, and the equivalent brand name, if that applies.

Specific no-no’s under the rule include requiring a patient to buy lenses, pay a fee, or sign a form or waiver before providing or verifying 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.

You have to give the prescription at the end of the fitting, but doctors often point out that a contact lens fitting may take more than one session. So how do you know when it’s over? If you’re ready to sell the patient contacts, the fitting is over and the patient should have the prescription.

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

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

The rule offers guidance for sellers, too. Sellers may provide contact lenses to a buyer only after either obtaining a copy of a valid prescription or, alternatively, verifying the prescription with the prescriber. Sellers may not dispense lenses using an expired prescription, and may only substitute lenses under certain conditions specified in the rule.

If you have more questions, check out The Contact Lens Rule: A Guide for Prescribers and Sellers and Complying with the Contact Lens Rule. We also have information for consumers about Prescription Glasses and Contact Lenses.