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    Proposed changes to regulations will put eye health and safety of B.C. public at risk

    Vancouver, March 24, 2010 – Serious eye diseases and disorders will go undetected if new “buyer beware” regulations covering eyeglasses and contact lenses go forward, says the B.C. Association of Optometrists. Details of the proposed regulations – developed without direct advance consultation of eye health professionals in the province – can be found at: http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/leg/whatsnew.html

    “Eye exams have a crucial preventative health function,” says association president, optometrist Dr. Antoinette Dumalo. “Under the proposed regulations, patients will be able obtain new eyeglasses and contact lenses without actually being examined by an eye doctor. That means eye disease may go undetected in as many as one in seven British Columbians – this from a government that claims to make the health of British Columbians a priority.”

    A study published in the Canadian Journal of Optometry in 2003 found that about one out of every seven people who visit an optometrist for a regular eye exam have “asymptomatic” eye disease: that is eye disease with no noticeable symptoms to the patients. Equally important, about 60 per cent of people with eye disease had good vision. In both instances, an eye exam conducted by an eye doctor, an optometrist or a medical doctor, is the only way to identify asymptomatic eye disease.

    Not only is undiagnosed eye disease devastating to the patient but also the cost to society is staggering. The 2009 Cost of Blindness Study by the CNIB and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society places the total financial cost of vision loss in Canada at $15.8 billion per year.

    The proposed regulations would also allow patients to order eyeglasses and contact lenses on the internet without having to provide a copy of the prescription to the seller. This shifts the responsibility for verifying the accuracy of prescriptions to the patient.

    Neither the BCAO nor the College of Optometrists, which is mandated to protect the public interest, were consulted about these new changes in the regulations, which allow unregulated sale of eyewear online and stand-alone automated sight tests by opticians. The BCAO strongly believes this is an eye-health issue – not a “consumer choice” issue – and that eye health professionals should be consulted.

    “The existing regulation is in place to protect the public and their eye health,” says Dr. Dumalo. “These proposed changes are regressive. The used-car warning “buyer beware” should not apply to health care products.”

    “We are not aware of any jurisdiction in North America where government has removed the responsibility of prescription verification by the seller,” says Dr. Dumalo. “On-line sales are a reality in this modern era, but they should be regulated, just as anyone else who provides eye wear anywhere in North America is regulated.”

    As well, Health Canada considers contact lenses to be a medical device, and the courts have validated this position. Simply de-regulating the sale of the medical device does not reduce the risk these devices have, says Dr. Dumalo.


    “Allowing people to buy contacts online without having to prove they have a prescription is like allowing patients to keep ordering medicine from an old prescription without ever having to go back to their doctor to have a check-up on their condition or to make sure the treatment is still appropriate,” says Dumalo.

    Two studies published in 2008 in the American Academy of Ophthalmology's journal Ophthalmology concluded that the risk of eye infections associated with internet/mail order purchase of contact lenses is nearly five times higher than when lenses were brought from an optometrist. If not treated properly, eye infections can lead to permanent vision loss.

    “All things considered,” says Dumalo, “the proposed changes to the regulations are not in the best interest of public health.”

    Optometrists specialize in examining, diagnosing, treating, managing and preventing diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye and related structures. Children need to have their eyes examined by six months, three years, before school entry and regularly thereafter. Adults 19 to 64 should have an eye exam every two years. People with diabetes or age 65 or older should have an exam at least once a year.

    For more information on eye health, or to locate an optometrist near you, visit http://www.whatcouldbemoreimportant.com/.

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    To arrange an interview or for more information contact:
    Rhonda Trenholm, media relations, 604.623.3007 or rhonda.trenholm@karyo-edelman.com

    Other information available:
    – Eye Exams and Sight Tests: Understanding the Difference

    Canadian Journal of Optometry article: Prevalence of Asymptomatic Eye Disease

    College of Physicians & Surgeons of BC – policy statement: Provision of Prescriptions for Ocular Refraction, October 2009

    2009 Cost of Blindness Study, CNIB and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society

    Who’s Who in Eye Care? Optometrists, Ophthalmologists and Opticians

    Common Eye Diseases and Disorders

    Common Vision Conditions

    US Federal Legislation: contact lens prescription release rule

    US Federal Legislation: contacts lens prescription release law

    FTC Coastal Contacts Letter Oct 2006