European citizens are shopping and using services online more than ever. At the same time, businesses are expanding their digital offering to meet the demands of the evolving digital single market. Optical and optometric businesses are no exception, having seen a significant increase in e-commerce over recent years. But, even though e-commerce offers exciting opportunities for professionals, consumers, and patients alike, its emergence also warrants a thorough rethinking of what appropriate behavior and practice look like. How can the European Council of Optometry and Optics (ECOO) empower optical and optometric professionals and their consumers and patients to use online services responsibly?
The digital single market affects these two groups in different ways. On the one hand, increased online activity has brought uncertainty to businesses, and raised concerns about the safety of patients and consumers. On the other hand, many patients and consumers like the convenience of online services but are unaware of the need to seek professional advice when it comes to their eye health and often lack the information needed to make informed decisions. Therefore, ECOO has developed two guidance documents on good online practice: one for professionals, the second for consumers and patients.
The main aim of these guidance documents is to ensure that online activities are approached in the same way as offline activities, meaning that behavior is based on the principles of honesty, safety, informed consumer and patient choice, transparency and integrity. The documents are also meant to raise awareness of the need for responsible online practice, and, to this end, they outline key principles to keep in mind for those who either offer or use online optical or optometric services.
For professionals, the principles to abide by include the definition of services and transparency, the regulatory frameworks in place, privacy and data access, patient communication, and the integrity of the services provided. For instance, it is important that professionals clearly outline on their website what services they offer and what potential limitations these come with. Patients or consumers should know who they are dealing with, and they should also have access to the background and professional qualifications of the practitioner. For patients or consumers, the guidance document underscores the importance of paying regular visits to an eyecare professional, highlighting that consumers and patients should be aware that they are purchasing medical devices, which require fitting and a prescription. Furthermore, the continuously changing rules for online services are different per country, but consumers and patients have rights, also online. The guidance document also encourages consumers and patients to be careful about the websites and applications they use, and outlines several factors to keep in mind when deciding which one to use.
Finally, it is important for professionals, consumers and patients to keep in mind that the data economy and the emergence of new technologies is developing at an unprecedented pace. ECOO is therefore committed to ensure that the guidance documents for good online practice, which were adopted during the ECOO General Assembly in May 2018, remain ‘living manuals’ that are updated on an on-going basis, fit to meet demands over time.
The documents are available on the ECOO Website.
Topic: Optical News