Healthcare is no exception to the current trend of retail moving to internet sales. With the founding of 1-800 Contacts in 1995, online retailers for contact lenses began to pop up one after another.

People have learned to shop around for almost everything they buy, and why wouldn’t you?

In a ruling last month, Chief Judge Michael Chappell ruled that 1-800 Contacts’ advertising causes “harm to consumers and competition in the market for the sale of contact lenses.”

The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against the company in August 2016 after they discovered 1-800 had manipulated major search engines like Google and Bing to show prominently their advertising when certain keywords were searched.

Even a search that said “1-800 Contacts cheaper competitors” would return advertisements only for 1-800 Contacts.

Less than a week after the judge returned the ruling, the Coalition for Patient Vision Care Safety met with the FTC commissioner to discuss patient safety and educating the public about risks of improper contact lens practices. Members from major contact lens manufacturers, including Alcon, Bausch + Lomb, CooperVision and Vistakon or Acuvue, were present.

The FTC also alleges that the company has “distorted prices and deprived consumers of truthful … information about prices, products and services.”

Sure, all your eye doctors would prefer you purchased your contact lenses from their office. At the end of the day, however, our concern is eye health.

There have been studies showing large percentages of patients receiving a different brand lens than what was prescribed or a different prescription all together.

A representative from Alcon (the creator of lenses such as Air Optix and Total 1 dailies) told me that their new packaging contains an American flag at the bottom corner of the box. This was a consequence of online retailers selling lenses – with their brand name – that were produced overseas by manufacturers that were not certified Alcon lens manufacturers.

The contact lens manufacturers have created rebates that are available at your local eye doctors’ offices, which you cannot get at online retailers. With these rebates included, most offices are very close to (or sometimes actually cheaper than) the major internet retailers.

Regardless of where you get your lenses, a contact lens is a medical device. Please wear and care for them responsibly.

One bad infection from over wear or improper cleaning can cause permanent visual damage. Take those lenses out at night, clean them properly, and dispose of them on schedule!

Caroline Bundrick, O.D. is an optometrist practicing at Darling Eye Center, with offices in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.