DRAPER, Utah—1-800 Contacts is partnering with Opternative to introduce InstaRx, a new service that lets consumers perform a self-administered, online eye exam, renew a contact lens prescription and order contact lenses through its web site. The service was launched July 27.

The partnership between Opternative and 1-800 Contacts seems like a natural alliance through which each company could benefit. Both 1-800 Contacts and Opternative advocate making eyecare and eyewear products more accessible and convenient for consumers, and both are battling with the American Optometric Association (AOA) and state optometric associations over issues concerning patient care and control of the prescription.

Asked why 1-800 Contacts is partnering with Opternative to launch InstaRx, Kellen Fowler, director of business development for 1-800 Contacts, told VMail, “1-800 Contacts is continually searching for ways to make vision care simpler and more affordable for Americans. We believe that technology has great potential to extend the reach of doctors, improve access for patients, and help control the costs of delivering healthcare services. As we learned more about Opternative we recognized that their technology could provide customers with an affordable and convenient option for prescription renewal. Over the course of several months we ran a pilot test to gauge interest and ensure that the customer experience was positive. Based on the results of nearly 5,500 customers who participated in that pilot, we felt comfortable partnering with Opternative to offer this service.”

InstaRx costs $40 for customers who only need a contact lens prescription the cost is $40. Customers have the option of getting both a contacts and a glasses prescription for $60.

The AOA was quick to take aim at InstaRx, and issued a statement saying it is “concerned that offerings such as InstaRx put patient health in danger.” The organization asserted that “an online eye ‘test,’ that does not completely cover any one of the 12 components of a comprehensive eye exam has a significant potential for yielding inaccurate prescriptions due to the limitations of the technology and carries a considerable risk of missing diagnoses of serious eye and general health considerations such as corneal problems (e.g., keratitis, ulcers and neovascularization), glaucoma, hypertension, diabetes, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

“Patients need to understand that unproven offerings such as InstaRx are focused on the business of health care, employing questionable sales practices that can ultimately undermine that patient-doctor relationship, give a false sense of health security and compromise care,” the AOA concluded.

Fowler emphasized that 1-800 Contact is taking steps to ensure that this prescription renewal service is not mischaracterized as a comprehensive eye exam and that customers understand the difference. “We inform customers that this service does not include any type of eye health exam and is not a replacement for a comprehensive eye health exam. In addition, in our communications we do not refer to this service as an eye exam, instead referring to it as a vision exam or a prescription renewal service.” He added that 1-800 Contacts encourages customers to receive a comprehensive eye health exam at least once every two years.

Aaron Dallek, co-founder of Opternative, called 1-800 Contacts “a great partner that will help us build awareness of the online health services that we created. We both have similar missions, which is to increase access to convenient and affordable eyecare to patients,” he told VMail.

Despite opposition from the AOA, which has blocked Opternative from doing business in several states, the company continues to expand into new markets. “Opternative is now in 36 states,” said Dallek. He noted that consumers up to age 50 can now use the service for single-vision online eye exams.