It’s about ocular health, not sales

January 19, 2017

Contact lenses are medical devices. I can write it again and again. These are not commodities.

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

From time to time I read an article that makes me want to shake my head. One such article is a commentary in The Washington Times, “The government’s war on contact lenses.”1 To summarize, author Eric Peters thinks contact lenses are regulated not out of concern for eye health, but because “we have crony capitalism for contact lenses.”

He explains how in Europe and Japan we can buy contact lenses without a prescription, and people can go online now using Opternative get spectacle prescriptions, so why can’t we do the same for contact lenses? He compares the process to that of buying a car. We're not required to buy a car from any particular dealer.

Previously from Dr. Bowling: Be present with your patients

Using his analogy, let’s shop for say, heart surgeons. Who’s giving the best deal on a bypass? Think I'll choose the one based on the lowest price? I don't think any person would.

The author makes us sound like a greedy bunch of SOBs because we happen to fit contact lenses. I really don't care where my patients buy their lenses. But I do care that contact lens fits properly and is healthy for the patient’s eyes. That’s my job. I'm the one accepting responsibility for the fit. That Chrysler dealer is not accepting responsibility for your driving habits.

It all comes down to a point the author missed: ocular health. Contact lenses are medical devices. I can write it again and again. These are not commodities. You’re not buying a pair of shoes. And I, as your eye doctor, accept responsibility both clinically and legally for that fit.

 

So yeah, let’s just start selling them out of vending machines like snacks. Might be a real boon for the medical side of my practice. Patients would present with a whole host of corneal conditions, but hey, don’t worry about that. Just give them two for one, sell ‘em in the name of crony capitalism.

I recommend you read the government’s own Centers for Disease Control study on risks for contact-lens–related infections.2 The study found there are about one million visits to eye doctors for some type of keratitis or compliance problem. The patient’s own compliance is the real problem. Think that number might go up if contact lenses become unregulated?

Related: Low-cost contact lens site looks to improve compliance, drive exams

I’m going to an extreme here. I think most patients come to trust and value the opinion of their eye doctors. When judicious clinical advice is followed, a patient can enjoy a lifetime of safe and successful contact lens wear.

Opening the door to the commoditization of contact lenses is fraught with peril, endangering the ocular health of consumers.

It is obvious the author has no earthly idea what we do. So once again, it all comes down to patient education. I once again give thanks to the American Optometric Association (AOA) for being out in front of this topic. Perhaps Mr. Peters should stick to automobiles; those are obviously what he understands.

References

1. Peter E. The government's war on contact lenses. Wash Times. Available at: www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jan/9/the-governments-war-on-contact-lenses/. Accessed 1/11/17.

2. Cope JR, Collier SA, Rao MM, et al. Contact Lens Wearer Demographics and Risk Behaviors for Contact Lens-Related Eye Infections-United States, 2014. MMWR. 2015 Aug 21. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6432a2.htm. Accessed 1/11/2017.

Read more from Dr. Bowling here

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