The clear picture on complying with the FTC’s Eyeglass Rule

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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.

 

Comments

Thanks, Colleen. I would also appreciate if the FTC could clarify that if an optometrist/optician *has collected* a pupillary distance; it is a scientific measurement and they must release it upon receipt of a written request from the patient as per HIPAA rules. I was denied my PD measurement from a large chain of vision centers located in department stores from whom I had recently bought glasses (I wanted to buy Rx safety glasses online). I filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights and they took my complaint. The large vision center chain formally responded to OCR and retrained their staff about the HIPAA requirement. From reading patient stories online, it seems that optical centers feel that because their state does not require the PD on the prescription that they are somehow exempt from HIPAA rules in regards to disclosing this measurement.

I purchased glasses from my eye dr less than a year ago. My dog got ahold of my glasses and chewed up the frame. I went into get them replaced. They will replace the frame and just transfer my lenses (since they were fine) into the new frame for $30. I agreed since that’s not bad at all. But when I asked for my prescription, they gave it to me but didn’t include my pupil distance. I asked for it and they said they charged $25 for it. I bought the glasses from them and I’m even getting the replacements with them... but I’d like the RX to order a cheap pair in cases something happens. So I’m not without glasses for a week while they get me more. Can they charge me for it? How would I verify the law for Georgia?

It's time for the pupillary distance to be REQUIRED with every prescription on a FEDERAL level. Not providing it so patients can shop freely breaks the whole INTENT of the FTC.

Based upon the interpretation of the FTC by this very article, it is not required on a federal level....Their EXACT words to the prescriber in this article states, "You also may want to include the patient’s pupillary distance. In some states, you are required to do so." It is a state by state requirement.

Sorry I misread your comment. I disagree wholeheartedly, however, with your assertion. The intent of the law was to allow a patient/customer to take their prescription where ever they choose. In the age of competition where there are multiple outlets to purchase eyeglasses (private offices, corporate stores, big box stores like walmart and Costco, etc) there are multiple ways now to obtain your eyeglasses. To withhold your Rx to keep you from going to the vendor of your choice is wrong. By asking the prescriber of the prescription to ALSO perform the measurements that are the duty of the dispenser of the eyewear is wrong. Purchasing glasses requires the proper selection of the frame, the proper measurements (PD, vertical fitting heights, bifocal or progressive fitting heights, etc), verification of the finished product, proper fitting and adjusting of the finished product, and (fairly often) problem solving for any potential issues (adapting to new design of lens, different material, error in fabrication, etc). All of those steps are the responsibility of the FITTER AND DISPENSER of the eyewear, NOT the prescriber. Releasing the Rx is ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do, it is the patient's right, no question...forcing the prescriber to do someone else's job for free is not.

I work for an Optometrist, and I think you all need to understand why some offices are hesitant to offer a PD with a prescription. I can tell you with absolute certainty, that the PD is subject to human error. So lets say you take your RX and PD to order glasses online, and they come back not right. A wrong PD can skew the RX, especially if you have an astigmatism. So who's to blame for the glasses when they don't work? Do you honestly think the online retailer is going to re-measure for you to make a corrected set of lenses? I can tell you with absolute certainty...NO. And do you really think the Optometrist is going to pay to re-take that PD and pay for the online vendor to remake your glasses??? NO So now you see it isn't that simple. A PD reading is done with a hand held devices in some places, if you don't have a steady hand, it can be off by millimeters, and it most certainly can make all the difference. There's a liability issue at stake. When the error is made in-house, it's easy to re-measure, and remake the lenses to provide satisfactory customer service. But you take that service to a 3rd party, and someone messes up along the way it gets messy. It would be like asking a trailer to measure the inseam of your pants. You take that measurement and order online some expensive trousers with the inseam measurement provided to you. The pants come back wrong...too long. Because apparently the tailor was having an off day...or his measuring tape had a slight kink to it. Are you going to ask him to pay for your new pair of pants that came in wrong? Well you can try, but good luck. lol

I’m an optometrist and I couldn’t have said it any better (refer to Beth’s note above)! We remake lenses for PD measurements being off. It’s an important measurement as well as the vertical height of the pupil in the lens while the patient is wearing the properly adjusted frame. Which we need to see the frame on the patient to make this measurement. The optics mathematical error when the pupil is off from the optical center of the lens is called “induced prism” = distortion. Formula: Prism = (cm)(Power of lens). Ie. I would NEVER recommend buying glasses online with any prescription higher than +/- 1.00D or Cyl. You’re just wasting your money.

If you buy eye wear from a brick and mortar establishment, you are using their expertise and education to provide a properly made pair of glasses. If they make a mistake, they will fix it. The education required to be a fully licensed Optician is extensive. If you do not want to support your local Optician by purchasing eye glasses from him/her, why would you go to them and ask them to provide non-prescription information to help you buy elsewhere? Would you ask them for the name of a website so you can buy online? As mentioned above, there is a liability issue if your local Optician provides a measurement and someone else uses it and makes a mistake. It's human behavior to blame the originator of the measurement whether it's true or not. If you want to buy eye glasses from a different source than where the exam was done, have the different source provide the measurement.

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