Eye Care Specialists
Where do you go when you are having difficulty with your eyesight? Depending
on the extent of the problem, your answer may vary. There are several different
types of eye care specialists you could see, including an ophthalmologist,
optometrist, and optician.
What is an ophthalmologist?
Ophthalmologists are doctors that specialize in the medical and surgical care
of the eyes and visual system, and also in the prevention of eye disease and
injury. They can be either doctors of medicine (M.D.) or doctors of osteopathy
(D.O.). While medical doctors focus on disease-specific diagnosis and treatment,
osteopaths concentrate on the loss of structure and function in different parts
of the body caused by disease.
An ophthalmologist has completed four years of pre-medical undergraduate
education, four years of medical school, one year of internship, and three or
more years of specialized medical and surgical training in eye care. As a
qualified specialist, an ophthalmologist is licensed by a state regulatory board
to diagnose, treat, and manage conditions affecting the eye and visual system.
An ophthalmologist is qualified to deliver total eye care, meaning vision
services, eye examinations, medical and surgical eye care, and diagnosis and
treatment of disease and visual complications that are caused by other
conditions, like diabetes.
What is an optometrist?
Optometrists are doctors of optometry (O.D.). They are trained to examine,
diagnose, treat, and manage some diseases and disorders of the visual system.
The optometrist has completed pre-professional undergraduate education and four
years of professional education at an accredited college of optometry.
(Optometrists do not attend medical school.) In addition, some optometrists may have
completed a one-year optional residency in a specialized area.
Like ophthalmologists, optometrists are trained to examine the internal and
external structure of the eyes to detect diseases like glaucoma, retinal
diseases, and cataracts. Optometrists do not perform surgery and are not trained
to care for and manage all diseases and disorders of the eyes. The optometrist
is trained to diagnose and treat vision conditions like nearsightedness,
farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia. They may also test a person's
ability to focus and coordinate the eyes and see depth and colors accurately.
Optometrists are licensed by the state to examine the eyes to determine the presence of
vision problems and visual acuity. They also prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, eye
exercises, low vision aids, vision therapy, and medications to treat eye diseases.
What is an optician?
Opticians are eye healthcare professionals who work with ophthalmologists and
optometrists to provide vision services. They assist optometrists and
ophthalmologists in providing complete patient care before, during, and after
exams, procedures, and surgeries. With a two-year technical degree, opticians
analyze and interpret eye prescriptions; determine the lenses that best meet a
person's needs; oversee ordering and verification of eye-related products from
start to finish; and dispense, replace, adjust, repair, and reproduce contacts, eyeglasses, and frames.
Eye health is the result of a working partnership between you and your eye
health care provider. Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians work
collectively and with the patient to ensure good eye health and lifelong
vision. You should visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist for an eye exam at
least once a year.
Choosing an eye care specialist
Because being able to see is so important, you should be proactive in the care of your
eyes. Taking a role in maintaining your sight and preventing its loss includes
choosing a qualified eye healthcare provider -- one who has the right training
and experience, can give proper diagnosis and treatment, is informative,
promotes the best possible results, and shows genuine care for the health of his
or her patients.
What should I consider when choosing an eye care specialist?
When choosing a professional to care for your eyes and sight, consider the person's
qualifications, experience, services offered, and patient satisfaction:
Having a solid set of credentials is an encouraging sign of a good health care
provider. Making sure that the professional has the proper and adequate training
to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease can help you decide which doctor will
best serve your eye health care needs. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists
should be certified through an accredited medical institution and be licensed to
practice through the respective state board of optometry or state medical board.
Ophthalmologists should, in addition, have internship and resident training. Certificates
and licensures should be displayed in conspicuous areas in their office. You can confirm their credentials through the appropriate state board before your visit.
Experience is also important. An optometrist or ophthalmologist who has more experience will probably be better able to detect eye disease and diagnose disorders simply because they have seen more patients. Another benefit of visiting a health care provider with experience is the reassurance that they
have maintained a practice of optometry or ophthalmology.
You may also want to know if your eye examiner participates in medical
research or medical education. An eye health care professional who participates
in and is current with the latest research and education in his or her field is more
knowledgeable about the latest techniques in diagnosing and treating eye disease
and visual problems.
Choosing an eye health care professional who is able to provide a wide range
of services is beneficial, but you also should select your provider by what
services you need. A provider who offers fewer services may sometimes be
able to provide more specialization with a service or certain diseases, like
glaucoma and cataracts. You should examine your eye health care needs to
determine which provider best suits you.
Talk to your family, friends, and coworkers to learn about particular health care providers.
After you visit the eye health care provider, determine if you were satisfied and comfortable with him or her. For example, were you seen in a timely manner? Was the examiner thorough? Did he/she address all of your concerns and follow up with any possible complications or questions you had? Will you return? Will you recommend him/her to others?
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