FOR DECADES I’ve been watching Canadian opticians build a respectable educational and licensing program. Contrary to the way ECPs and businesses in the U.S. have approached the education, competency, and accountability of the people who analyze and interpret eyewear prescriptions, Canadians developed a credible program that included mandatory education, competency testing, and licensing for all eyewear providers. In other words, if you want to sell eyewear in Canada, you must be licensed or a student working under the direction of a licensed optician—until a few weeks ago.

In a move that surprised a number of Canadian opticians, the British Columbia College of Opticians deregulated eyewear sales. This means anyone can sell eyeglasses in that province now; the person no longer has to be licensed. The government also authorized properly trained and licensed opticians to use an autorefractor to generate prescriptions from which they can make and sell eyeglasses.

As I understand it, this all started because the provincial government of British Columbia was struggling with Internet eyewear sales. How do you insist a virtual seller of eyeglasses have credentials? More importantly, how do you police it?

For example, if you establish a Web site in Peoria, IL and sell eyewear on it, you’re not selling just to your community or the state. Since the Internet has no borders, you’re selling to the entire planet. So how do you regulate a business that’s selling eyeglasses from China to Canada or England? How do you check that people making and verifying the eyewear are qualified? Where does the sale actually occur, in the country where the business resides or the country where the buyer lives? Can a government effectively bar Internet eyewear sales? What strategies would be used to stop it?

The fear of many Canadian opticians is that the deregulation concept and using an autorefractor to provide your own prescriptions may spread from British Columbia across the country. Ramifications of both are enormous and only the political process, the legal process, and time will tell us how this is going to shake out.

No matter what your view of Internet eyewear retailing, it’s having an increasingly bolder impact on the sale and delivery of eyewear to the public and the issues that surround this process are beginning to emerge. My best advice to all ECPs is to keep up on this topic and adjust your business in a manner that’s consistent with your business philosophy. Being forewarned is being forearmed.

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