PORTLAND, Ore.—Members of several U.S. professional vision-related associations and leading optical retailers and suppliers are spearheading a project to develop standardized voluntary certification of online optical retailers in conjunction with international certification organization, LegitScript, based here and in Dublin, Ireland.

Modeled after the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites program conducted by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy that provides for voluntary certification of online pharmacies, the online eyewear certification program is intended to provide certification for eyeglasses prescription verification, transparency regarding the identity of the owner/operator of internet websites, and customer/patient privacy protection, according to John Horton, president and founder of LegitScript, and Wally Lovejoy of Lovejoy Eyecare Consulting LLC in Cincinnati, an independent consultant for the NAOO who is working on this initiative.

Proposed standards for such a certification are currently posted online, where interested parties are invited to comment until mid-December.

The campaign to develop a certification program for online optical retailers was first initiated about two years ago “when traditional optical retailers, including NAOO members, expressed an interest in ensuring that online eyewear consumers had similar (not more, nor less) protections from deception, unfairness and unfair business methods as did those who shopped in stores and dispensing professional practices,” according to Lovejoy.

Horton told VMail that the organizations which have contributed to support the start-up fees of the program include members of the National Association of Optometrists and Opticians, including leading top ten retail players, some online eyewear sites, and leading eyecare professional organizations.

LegitScript is already involved with certification programs for internet pharmacies and efforts connected to product classifications related to dietary supplements, bodybuilding supplements, and drugs. LegitScript’s website notes that the company operates the world’s largest internet pharmacy certification, monitoring and compliance program used by leading companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter and Visa to keep their platforms free from illegal health care product sales.

After the companies and associations involved with launching this online eyewear certification initiative contacted LegitScript to participate, in August 2014 LegitScript proposed developing a policy for ongoing certification and monitoring of online optical retailers. “A significant number of associations and companies agreed with the proposal, and LegitScript agreed to move forward with the project,” Lovejoy said. With each company and association involved providing payments ranging from $5,000 to $7,500, LegitScript has started work on the project with funding of less than $60,000, Lovejoy said.

“The ongoing program costs will be borne by applicants (as opposed to contributions from these or other companies), who will pay a fee for application and review, and any of these organizations who might happen to apply will have to meet the same standards as everyone else and will be subject to the same level of review,” explained Horton.

The proposed standards recently published by LegitScript and available online for comment include the following eight requirements: “1) The seller either duplicates the eyewear as permitted by law or verifies the prescription (as must traditional dispensers). 2) The seller attests that they comply with the relevant state and federal laws relating to optical dispensing, and LegitScript finds no evidence to the contrary after a review of the records of regulators and public agencies. 3) The seller takes appropriate steps to protect the privacy and security of data used in the transaction and communications with the consumer, and makes its privacy policies public. 4) The seller identifies an accurate street address and provides for ready access by patients to contact or consult with a company representative regarding complaints or concerns, as do traditional locations.

5) The online merchant must be transparent about the website, not engaging in practices or extending offers on its website that may deceive or defraud patients about the internet eyeglass seller, any affiliate, staff, the eyeglasses being sold, or the financial transactions related to the sale. 6) The domain name may not be anonymous and its registration must be accurate. 7) The same standards apply to the seller’s affiliated websites. 8) The applicant for certification must identify key personnel.”

Application and certification would be voluntary on the part of each online optical retailer, Horton told VMail. “At first we’ll just be focused on the U.S. market, any website or internet merchant offering prescription eyewear to U.S. residents,” he said.

The timetable for launch is planned for the first quarter of 2015, Lovejoy told VMail. The proposed standards would pertain only to eyeglasses not contact lenses, he added.