Anyone can Google search “Best Optometrist”, “Best Eye Doctor”, “Best Ophthalmologist”, etc. and a list of names will pop up on the computer screen. The list that appears uses sophisticated Google search algorithms based on search engine optimization tools, and does not necessarily reflect the doctors' education, qualifications or experience. You can also read reviews, which can be good or can be misleading. Are you reading the reviews of actual patients or of childhood friends who have never seen the eye doctor for an eye exam?
Let us break down the different types of eye doctors and how they fit into your eyecare routine.
Optometrists are primary eyecare providers who have received their doctor of optometry (OD). In order to receive their doctor of optometry, the optometrist must complete a four year doctorate program dedicated to comprehensive eyecare. Most programs of study include education and training in the areas of: primary eyecare (correcting refractive error, prescribing glasses, etc), contact lenses (including specialty contact lenses), ocular disease (conjunctivitis, cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, etc), ocular manifestations of systemic disease (diabetes, hypertension, etc), low vision, pediatric eye care and binocular vision/vision therapy (eye tracking, teaming, focusing and visual perception).
Much like a pediatrician or primary care doctor, optometrists provide your annual, preventative care (but in this case it is eye care). Your teeth have dentists and your eyes have optometrists. The role of your optometrist is to provide primary eye care (prescribing glasses and contact lenses when appropriate), treat minor infections, injuries and eye emergencies and refer you to an ophthalmologist or sub-specialty optometrist as the need arises. The American Optometric Association recommends a person's first eye exam occur at 9-12 months old, with a second eye exam at 3-years-old and eye exams every year starting at 5-years-old. This eyecare schedule is designed to maintain eye health, identify vision conditions in children that can impact learning and provide early identification of ocular disease.
Some optometrists complete additional specialized training, called a residency, in a specific area of optometry. Optometric residencies include: binocular vision, cornea, low vision, ocular disease, neuro-optometry, pediatrics, specialty contact lenses, and vision therapy. Patients with specific visual needs in the above-mentioned areas will see a residency-trained optometrist.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MD) or osteopathic doctors (DO) who have received additional training in eye and vision care. Yes, we had to make it especially confusing by having ODs and DOs provide eyecare. Ophthalmologists provide medical and surgical care for the eyes and vision. Training and education includes medical school as well as additional training in several areas of eyecare: primary eyecare (correcting refractive error, prescribing glasses, etc), diagnosis and treatment of ocular disease, ocular manifestations of systemic disease, pediatric eye care, and some surgeries (such as cataract surgery).
Many ophthalmologists go on to complete advanced training in a specific area medical eye care and surgery. Sub-specialty ophthalmology includes the areas of: cornea, glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, oculoplastics (orbital reconstruction, lid surgery, etc), retina, and strabismus/pediatrics. Sub-specialty ophthalmologists are skilled surgeons and experts in managing end-stage disease.
Ophthalmologists are licensed to practice medicine and provide eye exams. Many ophthalmologists, however, become sub-specialists are see patients for tertiary care (surgery, consultations for other doctors, etc) – working hand-in-hand with the patient's primary care optometrist. The role of your ophthalmologist is to provide specialty care for your specific eye disease or surgical need. Some people also choose to see an ophthalmologist for their primary eye care (prescribing glasses and contact lenses when appropriate).
Continue the conversation with our next blog – Choosing The Best Eye Doctor: Part 2 where we discuss specific factors that should influence the type of eye doctor that you see.
Join us for Choosing The Best Eye Doctor: Part 3, where we discuss a few tips on how to better-search for an eye doctor online and a few questions to ask when you are scheduling your appointment.