MetroHealth's Dr. Thomas Steinemann Honored for Advocacy
About 20 years ago, Dr. Thomas L. Steinemann noticed an alarming trend at MetroHealth Medical Center’s bustling emergency department: A record number of young people with blinding eye infections.
The cause? Over-the-counter, cosmetic contact lenses – many of which had been purchased at gas stations, convenience stores, costume shops and the like. Dr. Steinemann, a highly regarded ophthalmologist who joined MetroHealth in 1999, knew something had to change.
“For many young people, these lenses were just another piece of disposable merchandise to change their appearance,” Dr. Steinemann said. “They weren’t worn for medical reasons but for fun – fun that could quickly turn dangerous.”
Because of Dr. Steinemann’s advocacy, the sale of contact lenses without a prescription – cosmetic or corrective – has been illegal since 2005. The tweak in federal law was a victory, no doubt, but Dr. Steinemann’s advocacy continues because the lenses are still easy to buy over the internet. He continues to work closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In recognition of his ongoing work, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has selected Dr. Steinemann to receive its Outstanding Advocate Award. The award will be presented during the academy’s virtual annual meeting in November.
“We have to keep educating people because these lenses are still so easy to buy – and it's our kids who are taking this risk,” Steinemann said. “Many don’t take these seriously like the medical devices that they are.”
In many cases, these lenses are made cheaply overseas and often contaminated because they don’t meet the FDA’s standards for safe medical devices. Likewise, without the supervision of an eye-care professional, wearers often aren’t fitted properly or educated about how to care for the lenses.
“Contact lenses are not risk free,” Dr. Steinemann said. “They can be a wonderful way to correct vision, but these are more than a consumer product. You have to be serious and do the right thing – or you’ll end up in trouble.”
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.