Op-Ed

Ky. bill permits use of eye-care technology and protects consumers

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Vision is critical. From safety to education to employment to daily needs, we depend on our eyes to function.

Doctors of optometry are the primary eye care providers in Kentucky, and we take that responsibility seriously. We support House Bill 191, because it permits the use of new eye care technology by Kentucky consumers, but protects them as well.

Currently, Kentucky has no standards that address online technology for glasses and contacts, which the FDA classifies as medical devices. HB 191 would create basic consumer protection for Kentuckians who go online for eye care.

Organizations that are opposed to these common-sense safety standards are using scare tactics to try to derail this bill. But here are the facts about HB 191, which passed in the Kentucky House of Representatives by a 90-7 vote:

▪ It sets reasonable safety standards for the technology — it does not impact doctor-provided treatment or telehealth services. Future technology is not limited.

▪ Kentuckians can use the technology to take an eye assessment and get a prescription for glasses or contact lenses.

▪ Kentuckians will continue to have the same freedom to purchase their glasses or contacts as they do today.

All eye-health professionals and technology companies agree that remote technology cannot replace an in-person comprehensive eye health examination. In-person examinations are necessary to detect health and eye conditions that otherwise cannot be found with remote technology.

HB 191 requires a patient to receive an in-person eye exam within the previous 24 months before receiving a prescription online. In-person exams are currently required for contact lens prescriptions on an annual basis. HB 191 promotes the use of safe technology in conjunction with in-person care — and permits consumers to renew their contact lens prescriptions online.

Consumers will be assured that there will be “simultaneous,” or real-time, interaction with a Kentucky-licensed optometrist or physician who also signs off on the prescription. The real-time exchange of information with the consumer reduces the risk that medical conditions will be missed or that treatment will be delayed. It will help ensure the accuracy of any prescription or resulting treatment that the consumer receives.

This is in the best interest of patient safety and is something all health-care providers should support.

Importantly, consumers will have the same protections and rights whether they use an on-line technology or have an in-person exam. There will be oversight of the technology and medical devices within the consumer protection act, so that a consumer has available remedies in Kentucky if necessary.

Out-of-state companies are trying to protect their business interests by opposing this bill. Interestingly, two of the most well-known companies are engaged in a lawsuit against each other — with one company accusing the other company of stealing its technology. The responding company: “This is an unfortunate example of a company choosing to address competition with litigation instead of innovation.”

Based on these statements from the companies themselves, it appears that one or both are either engaging in questionable business practices, or are trying to stifle the very technology and competition they claim to support.

Kentucky optometrists, who practice in more than 90 percent of all Kentucky counties, have long been proponents of improving access to care and ensuring that the best technology is available for Kentucky residents. That’s why we supported a law passed in 2011 to modernize eye care in Kentucky and create better access to the latest proven technologies.

We believe in utilizing the latest technology in support of Kentucky patients, and we believe in the free market. But health-care providers have a responsibility to the public. HB 191 ensures that consumers have the ability to choose but, just as important, their health is protected.

Randy Steele, a doctor of optometry in Georgetown, is president for the Kentucky Optometric Association.

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