Having trouble getting your contact lens prescription from your eye care provider?

Eye care providers are required by law to give contact lens prescriptions to patients when the fitting process is complete. This requirement is generally understood, but recognize there can be bad actors in any industry. While this situation can be perplexing, the reason is simple: unlike your family doctor, most eye doctors sell what they prescribe. Therefore, some believe withholding your prescription will force you to purchase contact lenses from them. Here is some information that might help:

1. Be savvy

Know the common practices that some eye care providers use to prevent you from getting your prescription. For instance:

Giving out eyeglass prescriptions instead of contact lens prescriptions

Make sure you have a contact lens prescription, not an eyeglass prescription. A prescription for disposable contact lenses will always include the brand name of the contacts. If your prescription does not, check with your eye care professional.

The waiver

Some eye care providers will have you sign a waiver to receive your prescription. This practice is illegal and can be used as a scare tactic to make you think you are doing something wrong. Does your family doctor make you sign a waiver to get your medicine from a pharmacy? You don’t have to sign anything.

“I can’t release, the fitting process is not over”

Some eye care providers may tell you they can not release your prescription to you because you have not completed the fitting process. This is normal for new wearers or when getting fitted with a new type or brand of lens, but it is not normal for consumers who are wearing the same lenses as before and only need a refill. It is also not supposed to be used as a reason for withholding your prescription. Under the new federal law your prescription is good for a minimum of 1 year. Most importantly, this one year time period is from the date your eye care provider gives you a copy of your prescription – not from the date of your examination.

The one year myth

Some eye care providers tell you that they cannot issue an expiration date of more than one year. This is not true. One year is a minimum, not a maximum. You should discuss your wearing habits and eye health with your eye care provider to determine if you can have a longer prescription length.

The sales call

After receiving a prescription confirmation call from a mail order contact lens supplier, some doctors will call you. Instead of acting like a health care professional and complying with the verification request, some eye care providers will attempt to pressure you into buying your contact lenses directly from them. Some eye care providers will tell you that ordering direct by phone or Internet is illegal, or that the contacts are not as good as what the eye care provider sells. This practice is unethical and improper. These false statements are intended to discourage you from ordering through alternate retailers and could create legal liability. You have the right to get your prescription filled wherever you choose, without unnecessary or unsolicited pressure from your eye care provider.

Come pick up your Rx

You may be told that the eye care provider cannot release your prescription to you or anyone else over the phone or by fax. Not true. This is just a way to get you into their store. By law, prescriptions can be transmitted in hard copy or by any electronic means.

Already released, can’t do it again

You have a right to your prescription whenever you want it.

Charging to release

Some eye care providers may attempt to charge a fee for prescription release. This illegal practice is simply a way to discourage you from going somewhere else to buy your lenses.

2. Know the law

The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act was signed by President Bush on December 6th, 2003 with an effective date of February 4th, 2004. It was written to protect you from the conflict of interest where eye doctors both prescribe and sell lenses. Here are your new rights under this law:

Right to your prescription

You have a right to your prescription automatically and unconditionally. Once your contact lens fitting is done, your eye doctor must give you a copy of your prescription — whether you ask for it or not – and without an extra fee or the need to sign a waiver or form.

You don’t have to buy your initial box of lenses from your doctor

When your eye doctor prescribes new lenses, he or she will generally have you wear a trial pair to test their fit. Once the doctor determines the fitting is complete the federal law requires that you receive your prescription immediately. You are then free to buy your initial boxes of lenses, as well as your replacement lenses, from any vendor you choose whether that be your doctor or a retailer such as 1-800 Contacts.

Right to have your prescription verified

Whenever you want to buy your lenses from a retailer such as 1-800 Contacts, your doctor must cooperate. If your eye doctor does not respond to our request for verification within eight business hours, the prescription is considered verified, and you will receive your lenses.

Protection against expensive “private label” lenses

You may have been prescribed private label, or store brand, lenses available only through your eye doctor’s office. Under the new law, we can provide you with identical lenses made by the same manufacturer, regardless of the brand name on your prescription.

Protection against unreasonably short prescription lengths

The law requires that your prescription be valid for at least one year. An eye doctor may only write a prescription for less than one year if justified by your medical health.

Under this new law, your ability to order lenses from 1-800 CONTACTS and other retailers will be simpler, easier and even more consumer friendly. Also, please keep in mind that no retailer, whether it is 1-800 CONTACTS or any other vendor, will be able to legally sell you contact lenses if your prescription is invalid or expired.

Read the law

3. What is ethical behavior?

The American Medical Association (AMA) has written a Code of Ethics to define ethical behavior by doctors. Their position is very clear with respect to obtaining your prescription – you have a right to it. Below is the exact wording from the AMA’s Code of Ethics:

E-8.06 Prescribing and dispensing drugs and devices:

“In all instances, physicians should respect the patient’s freedom of choice in selecting who will fill their prescriptions as they are in the choice of a physician and, therefore, have the right to have a prescription filled wherever they wish.”

“Patients have an ethically and legally recognized right to prompt access to the information contained in their individual medical records. Since a prescription is part of the patient’s medical record, the patient is entitled to a copy of the physician’s prescription for drugs or devices, including eyeglasses and contact lenses.”

Full text can be found at the American Medical Association website.

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