AOA to FDA: Patients need guidance on risks of online vision apps
During a Nov. 17 workshop, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sought recommendations on how to best communicate with the public about the safety of medical devices. AOA members were in attendance and advised that the FDA could do more to educate the public on the safety issues posed by online vision tests.
“Getting accurate, reliable and actionable information to the public about medical device safety is a critical function of the FDA,” said AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D. “The FDA has recently been given the challenging task of regulating the many medical mobile apps that have come to market. We understand that the agency works to apply its regulatory oversight to only those mobile apps and medical devices that pose a risk to public safety.”
AOA-backed DOC Access Act gains U.S. Senate companion
In a testament to the tireless advocacy of the AOA and its affiliates, the bipartisan Dental and Optometric Care Access (DOC Access) Act now has a new Senate companion. Introduced on Nov. 12 by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., S. 4894 aims to put doctors and patients back in control of important health care decisions by ending abusive vision plan practices. The bill, also backed by the American Dental Association, was referred to the Senate’s Committee on Health, where it awaits further consideration.
While the 116th Congress is in its waning days, the introduction of the bill is nevertheless an important milestone in its advocacy and sets up the AOA, affiliates and the ADA for an all-out House-Senate push in the next Congress—convening Jan. 3, 2021. H.R. 3762, the House version of the DOC Access Act, remains active with 63 co-sponsors including nearly a dozen new co-sponsors added since September’s virtual AOA on Capitol Hill.
AOA demands lead to change at 1-800 Contacts
Challenging wording on 1-800 Contacts’ website that proclaimed, “Take our Online Vision Exam for Free While Eye Care Providers are Closed,” the AOA issued a letter on Oct. 29 demanding the online contact lens retailer take down the messaging that appeared to promote 1-800 Contacts’ business at the expense of primary eye care providers on the frontlines of the nation’s COVID-19 public health emergency. In 1-800 Contacts’ response on Nov. 9, the retailer noted that “we have modified the language to eliminate any language regarding the operating status of eye care providers.” The AOA confirms the language is no longer visible.
Following an Oct. 23 letter to the Federal Trade Commission that provided evidence of a potential violation of 1-800 Contacts’ adherence to the recently updated Contact Lens Rule, the AOA can confirm the online retailer has made corrective actions to its mobile app, which did not obtain verifiable affirmative consent to send contact lens prescriptions electronically to patients, as is clearly outlined by the rule and required of telemedicine prescribers. Instead, the ExpressExam mobile app previously advised patients “your prescription will be emailed to you,” at the end of the vision test.
Big scope expansion victories earned in Pennsylvania, Iowa, despite a turbulent year
On Oct. 29, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 99 (House Bill 2561), an amendment to the state’s Optometric Practice and Licensure Act first passed in 1980. The amendment not only expands the ability of doctors of optometry to examine, diagnose and treat patients, but also gives the state board of optometry sole authority to set optometric formulary there.
And Pennsylvania isn’t the only state celebrating scope expansion.
In Iowa, strategic persistence paid off, as the Iowa Optometric Association had been waging a legislative battle since 2016 and had to overcome considerable obstacles along the way.
Doctors of optometry in Iowa, provided they have requisite education and training, can now provide the following care to patients:
- Subconjunctival injection for medical treatment of the eye.
- Intralesional injections for chalazia.
- Botulinum toxin into the muscles of facial expression innervated by the facial nerve, including for cosmetic purposes.
- Injections to counteract anaphylactic reactions.
AOA spearheads conditions for evolution of telemedicine technology
The AOA Board of Trustees spearheaded a newly revised, agenda-setting position statement on telemedicine’s role in optometry. The new position statement replaces the board’s 2017 policy statement and represents a yearlong look by the AOA Telehealth Council and input from leaders in eye and vision care, artificial intelligence, telehealth platforms and doctors. The new position paper includes AOA’s stance on telemedicine, criteria for ensuring high-quality telemedicine in optometry, legal and privacy considerations, a section on the essentialness of the doctor-patient relationship, as well as reaffirmation of the in-person, comprehensive eye exam as optometry’s “gold standard” of care.
COVID-19 recovery funds made available for financially stressed doctors of optometry
Continuing AOA’s broad, multifaceted support and relentless advocacy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the AOA Foundation Recovery Fund made up to $3,000 available per AOA member (up to $1,500 for nonmembers) in recovery aid funding to bolster the viability of optometry practices affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency—and to ensure doctors of optometry can continue providing essential eye health and vision care in their communities. The fund is made possible by the generous contributions of Visionary Supporter Johnson & Johnson Vision, as well as Associate Supporter CooperVision. Applications closed Oct. 31, and the exact dollar amount awarded will depend on certain criteria to assess need. After review, funds will be disseminated in December.
“Many doctors of optometry, especially in lower-income communities and those communities devastated by COVID-19, have slipped through the cracks with regard to support from federal and local agencies,” says Pete Kehoe, O.D., Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation Board president. “The AOA Foundation Recovery Fund expects a large demand for funds to help doctors continue providing critical care to patients in need in the months ahead.”
Breaking through the pandemic
The COVID-19 crisis happened in a big way, and when life hands it a pandemic, the AOA pivots. The 2020 media advocacy reset means redirecting the AOA’s social, digital and media content strategy to further position doctors of optometry and the AOA as reliable, go-to sources for patients during the public health crisis. Through the AOA’s 24/7 efforts, optometry’s patient safety and eye health messages are reaching millions of Americans through increasingly diverse channels.
“It goes without saying that COVID-19 has changed everything, but the AOA took the opportunity to adapt, not halt, our plans to elevate the essential eye health and vision care doctors of optometry deliver,” says AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D. “We harnessed the opportunity to reinforce to the public that doctors of optometry are ready to deliver the care patients count on safely through and after this health crisis.”
Here’s how AOA adjusted.