Wal-Mart Steps in [It] With 1-800 Contacts

on January 17th, 2008 | Filed under Optoblog

Wal-Mart recently announced in a letter that they are “excited to announce a long term alliance between Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club and 1-800 CONTACTS..”

May Heaven help us, because 1-800 sure isn’t going to. I promptly wrote the following E-mail to Dr. Patel, Wal-Mart’s Director of Professional Relations:

Dr. Patel,
I would advise against any kind of alliance with 1-800 CONTACTS. You’re not the first one to try. Standard Optical, a Utah-based optical chain, aligned with this Utah-based contact lens reseller for a while, and it didn’t last long. You should talk with those in the know about why it didn’t work out.

1-800 is also militant about teaching the general public to force the doctor to make decisions not in their best interest. Everyone inside our industry acknowledges that yearly eye exams are important, but 1800’s own website indoctrinates consumers to mandate to their doctor that prescriptions should expire at the two year mark OR LATER. (see: http://www.1800contacts.com/docAndRx/DocRx-release-1.shtml ). As a Utah eye doctor, I already suffer with practicing in the only state in the nation with a minimum 2-year contact lens expiration date- thanks to 1800’s lobbying power in our Utah legislature.

I had a patient last year, whom if her prescription hadn’t expired, she wouldn’t have come back in to see me for her yearly exam. If she wouldn’t have had her yearly exam, I wouldn’t have noticed an FDT screening visual field defect and reduced vision in one eye that wasn’t there the previous 2 yearly exams. If I wouldn’t have seen her, I couldn’t have referred her to the ophthalmologist who referred her for imaging which found the diagnosis of a brain tumor. A yearly eye exam saved her life, and under 1800’s reign, we are sure to miss these kinds of cases in the future.

If your only goal is to cut costs related to online sales at walmart.com, why not use 1800 as a nameless, behind the scenes
subcontractor? Giving them the limelight is the wrong move for Wal-Mart. An alliance with 1800 disgraces our reputation.

Also, I’ll quote from your FAQ (http://www.walmartod.com/clients/1814/docs/FAQ_Alliance.pdf): “Consumers in that same survey specifically cited cost and “purchasing them is inconvenient” as reasons for over-wearing their lenses.” Wal-Mart boasts about how something like 50% of a town’s population visit their store in any given week. How is stopping by the vision center on their bi-weekly pilgrimage inconvenient? What they meant to say is expensive or don’t have enough money. They expect to buy a box per eye and stretch it as long as possible. The real problem is that people expect a year supply of contacts to be less expensive than glasses just because you throw them away, and most also expect them to be a replacement for, not in addition to, glasses. Change those two perceptions, and you’ll increase your contact lens sales without help from the enemy of 1800 CONTACTS.

Please see my previous blog posts about 1800:
http://www.optoblog.com/2007/10/09/check-yearly-live-another-year/
http://www.optoblog.com/2007/07/30/patients-say-the-funniest-things/
http://www.optoblog.com/2007/03/19/1-800-eat-crap-and-die/

Sincerely,
David Langford, O.D.

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7 Comments

7 Responses to “Wal-Mart Steps in [It] With 1-800 Contacts”

  1. […] what I’ve discussed with others about the whole partnership with 1-800 and Wal-Mart since my original post. Of course, this has been a hot topic at Wal-MartOD.com and at other sites like the highly […]

  2. Dr. Mullins says:

    Dr. Langford,

    Do you routinely recommend re-examination of your non-contact lens wearing patients every 12 months? If not, why not?

  3. For children wearing glasses, I say every year.

    Since I’m required by law in the state of Utah to make my prescriptions 2 years on healthy eyes, my most common recommendation is:
    “Your prescription is good for two years. Most associations recommend yearly eye exams. You should return again at least every two years or sooner if any problems or changes occur in your vision.”

    The law changed how I practice. Plus Canadian studies say 2 years is over-utilization of the system.

    But I really wish everyone would check yearly, see clearly, live another year. It should be like changing your oil. My exam price at Wal-Mart is almost as cheap as an oil change, so I don’t think people have an excuse to not get a yearly eye exam.

  4. ceejay says:

    “A yearly eye exam saved her life, and under 1800’s reign, we are sure to miss these kinds of cases in the future.”

    So by this logic it would be even better to require citizens to meet with doctors ever 2 weeks. It will cost quite a bit, but then we won’t miss discovering cancer and other ailments early.

    Or we could just let people do what they want. I don’t understand why there is any expiration date on contact lenses. If I can’t see clearly then of course I’ll go see a doctor that helps people see better. I don’t need an expiration date to force me.

    This is all about control. People should control themselves; we don’t need doctors doing it.

  5. “This is all about control. People should control themselves; we don’t need doctors doing it.”

    The libertarian in me agrees with that sentiment, but I’m still going to expire my Rx’s every two years like Utah law demands. The problem with doctors relinquishing control to the patient is that generally the patient doesn’t know what they don’t know. Also, if ceejay can produce malpractice tort reform, then it would be less risk to the doctor to give more control back to the patient.

  6. Dara says:

    When I was 18, I ordered from 1-800-contacts for the first time (though, I had been wearing them since age 12). Since then I have simply re-ordered through their website. They haven’t checked the RX since that first time – and I’m 32 now. I only order a few times a year (since I leave my Acuvues in for 2-3 months at a time), but it seems that over ~14 years, I must have re-ordered at least 30 times – I even upped the RX on my own a few years ago. I’m not even sure if the doc’s name even exists.

    Long story short – my question, I guess, is – is it against the law for 1-800 to fill my RX without checking it once in a while?

  7. Huh. Well, the law is something like this: They attempt to get verification, usually by fax or phone call. If they get it, great. If the doctor ignores the request and they don’t get it within a certain amount of time, they can still fill your Rx.

    My question is, wouldn’t you want to get an eye exam every so often, maybe every two years at least, to make sure you still see as good as possible and also check your cornea health? I’d bet a Coke that you have cornea neovascularization if you are still wearing a contact lens with a material that has 14-year-old-plus technology.

    The less oxygen that gets to your cornea, the more likely that your cornea will get hypoxic, a condition which stimulates new blood vessels to grow onto your cornea. This is very common with old contact lens materials. If it goes unchecked it will cause problems.

    Also, I can’t tell you how many people come in for a routine check up, say everything’s fine- just need more contacts, but they only see 20/30 with their current Rx! I update it, and they leave seeing 20/20+ again.