Eyes: Choosing an Eye Doctor

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The Cleveland Clinic

Choosing an Eye Doctor

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 doctors and eye specialists you could see, including an ophthalmologist, optometrist, and optician.

What Is an Ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists are eye doctors that specialize in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system, and also the prevention of eye disease and injury. They can be either doctors of medicine (MD) or doctors of osteopathy (DO).

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 due to disease, including the eye. An eye doctor who is an osteopath would give treatment based on the assumption that treating the parts of the visual system with the use of medicines, surgery, diet, and other therapies, will therefore treat the underlying eye problem.

An ophthalmologist is an eye doctor who 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, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and visual complications that are caused by other conditions, like diabetes.

What Is an Optometrist?

Optometrists are eye doctors of optometry (OD). They are trained to examine, diagnose, treat, and manage some diseases and disorders of the eye and visual system. The optometrist has completed pre-professional undergraduate education and four years of professional education at an accredited college of optometry. In addition, some optometrists may have completed a one-year optional residency in a specialized area. Optometrists have not attended medical school.

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Like ophthalmologists, optometrists are trained to examine the internal and external structure of the eyes to detect diseases such as glaucoma , retinal detachment , and cataracts . Optometrists do not perform eye 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 such as 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 states to examine the eyes to determine the presence of vision problems and visual acuity, 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 related to the diagnosis and treatment of vision problems and eye disease. 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 persons needs; oversee ordering and verification of eye-related products from start to finish; dispense, replace, adjust, repair, and reproduce previously ordered contact lenses, eyeglasses, and frames.

Eye health is the result of a working partnership between you and your eye healthcare provider. Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians work collectively and with the patient to ensure good eye health and life-long vision. You should visit your eye doctor - either an optometrist or ophthalmologist -- for an eye exam at least once a year.

Choosing an Eye Doctor or Eye Specialist

Because sight is so important, be proactive in the care of your eyes. Chose a qualified eye doctor -- one that 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 Doctor?

When choosing an eye doctor to care for your eyes and sight, consider the person's qualifications, experience, services offered, and patient satisfaction.

Qualifications

Having a solid set of credentials is an encouraging sign of a good eye doctor or optician. Make sure that the eye doctor has the proper and adequate training to diagnose, treat, and prevent eye disease. This will help you decide which doctor can best serve your eye healthcare 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 residential experience. Certificates and licensures should be displayed in conspicuous areas in their office. You may confirm their credentials through the appropriate state board prior to your visit.

Experience

Having experience is also important for an eye doctor. 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 an eye doctor with experience is the reassurance that they have maintained a practice of optometry or ophthalmology. Consumers are unforgiving to malpractice and bad service.

You may also want to know if your eye doctor participates in medical research or medical education. An eye doctor who participates in and is current with the latest research and education in the field is more knowledgeable about the latest techniques in diagnosing and treating eye disease and visual problems.

Services Offered

Choosing an eye doctor who is able to provide a wide range of services is beneficial, but you also should select your eye doctor by what services you need. One who provides fewer services may sometimes be able to provide more specialization with a service or with certain diseases, such as glaucoma and cataracts. You should examine your eye healthcare needs to determine which type of eye doctor best suits you.

Patient Satisfaction

There is a cliche about "word of mouth" recommendations: They travel farther and faster than any form of paid advertising. Talk to your family, friends, and coworkers to learn about the eye doctors they like best. After you visit the eye doctor, determine if you were satisfied and comfortable with him or her. For example, did the eye doctor see you in a timely manner? Was the exam thorough? Did the eye doctor address all of your concerns and follow up with any possible complications or questions you had? Will you return? Will you recommend the eye doctor to others?

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute.




Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, WebMD, October 2004.


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Reviewed on 6/29/2005

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