Warning letters sent by the Federal Trade Commission to 38 prescribers cautioned recipients about potential violations of the agency's Ophthalmic Practice Rules, better known as the Eyeglass Rule.

The Rule requires that prescribers provide their patients with a copy of their eyeglass prescription immediately after an eye exam, even if the patient does not request it, and it prohibits prescribers from requiring that patients purchase eyeglasses as a condition of providing the prescription.

"You should also know that prescribers cannot place a liability waiver on the prescription, require patients to sign a waiver, or require patients to pay additional fees, in exchange for a copy of the prescription," Mary K. Engle, Associate Director of the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices, wrote in the letters. "Prescribers also cannot refuse to perform an eye exam unless the patient purchases ophthalmic goods from the prescriber."

The Rule is intended to allow consumers to comparison shop for eyeglasses, the letters noted. Recipients of the letters—who were not identified by the agency—were the subjects of consumer complaints that their offices failed to provide them with an eyeglass prescription at the end of an eye exam.

To help prescribers comply with the Rule's requirements, the FTC enclosed a copy of the Eyeglass Rule and an agency business guidance publication, Complying with the Eyeglass Rule, with the warning letters.

Violations of the Rule "may result in legal action," Engle cautioned recipients, placing them on notice of civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.

To read a sample warning letter to a prescriber, click here.

Why it matters: The agency emphasized that prescribers cannot contract their way around the Rule. While a prescriber can require a patient to pay for the eye exam before giving the patient a copy of the prescription, the immediate payment requirement must apply with equal force to patients whose exams reveal no need for glasses, contact lenses, or other ophthalmic goods. The FTC also noted that many states impose requirements about the content of the prescription itself (such as the date of the exam and when the prescription expires), so prescribers should ensure they are in compliance with both state and federal law.