Effective May 1, residents of British Columbia will be able to purchase contact lenses and ophthalmic glasses over the Internet without a written prescription or eye test from an optician or optometrist. The legislation is intended to address complaints from patients who suggest that their optometrists or opticians will not provide them copies of their prescriptions to legally purchase contact lenses online.

Optometrists in British Columbia say the legislation puts the public at risk. “The existing regulation is in place to protect the public and their eye health,” says optometrist Antoinette Dumalo, president of the British Columbia Association of Optometrists. “These proposed changes are regressive. The used-car warning ‘buyer beware’ should not apply to health care products.”

Nevertheless, the new legislation:

• Removes most of the restrictions that allow only opticians or optometrists, or workers supervised by them, to dispense glasses or contacts.
• Allows prescriptions issued by medical doctors and optometrists outside of the province to be filled within British Columbia.
• Allows individuals to order glasses or contact lenses online without having to give the seller a copy of their prescription, sight-test assessment or contact lens specifications.
• Requires British Columbia opticians and optometrists to include the pupillary distance measurement in spectacle prescriptions.
• Requires British Columbia opticians and optometrists to give clients, free of charge, a copy of their prescription, sight-test assessment or contact lens specifications—whether or not the client requests it—and also to give a copy, free of charge, to a third-party eyewear seller or other person if requested by the client.

Finally, the legislation permits opticians to perform vision tests on healthy adults, and issue prescriptions without first showing the results to a medical doctor for approval.

The legislation was introduced by the province’s Health Ministry. “With advances in technology and more consumers turning to the Internet, it makes sense to modernize a decades-old system to give more British Columbians more choices while maintaining public safety,” says Kevin Falcon, British Columbia’s Health Services Minister.

Neither the BCAO nor the College of Optometrists, which is mandated to protect the public, were consulted about these new changes in the regulations.

“The BCAO believes that the regulatory changes will adversely impact patient health and safety, and the practice of optometry in British Columbia,” Dr. Dumalo says. “The BCAO intends to mount a campaign to oppose the regulatory changes being imposed on our profession.”

On a positive note, the Health Ministry also added “anti-glaucoma medications” to the list of drugs that British Columbia optometrists may prescribe or administer topically.