The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued clearly defined FTC rules for prescribing contact lenses. This ensures that consumers can shop around for contact lenses and do NOT have to buy from the prescribing eye doctor or eye care practitioner. This created the foundation for online stores to do business and sell contact lenses over the internet. The prescriber has to give you a copy of the contact lens prescription at the end of the contact lens fitting process – even if you don't ask for it. A valid prescription includes all required prescription parameters as well as an expiration date - latter one has to be one year unless the doctor has a medical reason to shorten the expiration period. In addition, prescribers cannot require you to buy contact lenses, pay additional fees (besides the fees for the eye exam and the fitting process) or sign a waiver or release in exchange for a copy of the contact lens prescription..

A prescription should contain the following items:

  • Your name

  • Date of Examination

  • Date patient receives prescription after a contact lens fitting (issue date) and the expiration date of the prescription

  • Name, address, phone number and fax number of prescriber

  • Power

  • Material and/or manufacturer of the prescribed contact lens

  • Base curve or appropriate designation of the prescribed contact lens

  • Diameter, when appropriate, of the prescribed contact lens

  • For a private label contact lens, the name of the manufacturer, trade name of the private label brand, and if applicable, trade name of an equivalent brand name

The rule was issued in July 2004. In March 2018 the FTC was holding a public event in Washington to present and discuss issues related to competition in the contact lens industry, consumer access to contact lenses, prescription release and portability, and other contact lens related subjects.

If you are interested, you can read the transcript or watch the video from the sessions here:

For online retailers, the main requirement is to ensure that the buyer has a valid prescription. This can be done by contacting the prescriber directly and getting prescription parameters and patient name confirmed. If the seller doesn't hear back from the prescriber within 8 business hours, the prescription is considered to be verified.

What does this mean to you, the consumer? Well, this makes it quite easy to buy contact lenses online as you do not have to provide a copy of the original prescription via email or fax. Instead, the online store has to check with your eye doctor or your eye care professional directly. This explains why you usually have to provide your eye doctor's address and/or phone number during the check out process.