The eye is one of the most sensitive organs in the body. Therefore, you must take delicate care of it at all times. Choosing the right eye care provider is a crucial decision, as you would be trusting your sense of sight to the professional.
So, who should you go to; an optometrist or ophthalmologist? Are they the same? This article explores optometry and ophthalmology and the dividing line between these two professions.
Who is an Optometrist?
An optometrist is an eye care professional whose primary eye care services range from correcting, sight testing, diagnosis, and management to the treatment of vision changes. Contrary to popular belief, an optometrist is not a medical doctor, and so is not licensed to practice medicine and surgery in the UK. However, they are crucial professionals in pre- and post-eye surgery care.
What does an Optometrist do?
Modern-day optometrists are expected to;
- Provide general services like treatments of eye conditions and eye exams.
- Diagnose the problems with patients.
- Prescribe and fit contact lens and eyeglasses.
- Provide vision therapy like low-vision aids and eye exercises.
Training required to become an Optometrist
Optometrists in the UK first complete a three to four-year undergraduate degree programme before they start their careers. After the completion of the degree, an internship supervised by an experienced practitioner is undertaken. It is during this period that several assignments are given to determine the proficiency of the candidates. When all final examinations are passed, the student is then eligible to register with the General Optical Council as an optometrist.
In recent years, several optometry postgraduate programmes have been established in many universities in the UK. Optometrists are required to continue their educational pursuits to keep their licensure and stay relevant in the discipline.
An optometrist will always have O.D (which implies doctor of optometry) after their names.
Specialities of Optometry
There are three speciality areas in optometry;
- Supply Specialty: Optometrists that specialise in this field can write orders for eye infections and diseases, and supply drugs during emergencies only.
- Prescribing Specialty: This speciality allows optometrists to prescribe medicines following a plan set by an independent prescriber.
- Independent Prescribing Specialty: Optometrists that specialise in this field, can diagnose, determine the required management and prescribe medicine whenever it is needed.
Who is an Ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a professional that specialises in vision and eye care. The job of these professionals is to treat eye diseases, fit and prescribe contact lenses or eyeglasses, and perform eye surgeries on patients. The training and education of an ophthalmologist are similar to an oral surgeon’s, and he or she has a license to practice medicine and surgery in the UK.
An ophthalmologist may also be an osteopathic medicine doctor (DO), and they will always have the initials M.D. (which implies medical doctor) after their names.
Training required to become an Ophthalmologist
An ophthalmologist is required to have an undergraduate degree in medicine followed by six to eight years of further training. An extra year may be necessary before the residency program for training in paediatrics, general surgery or medicine. This additional training prepares the professional to take on complex eye problems.
The level of training that ophthalmologists have also allows them to spot issues like high blood pressure and diabetes that may be affecting the eyes.
Speciality Areas of Ophthalmology
An ophthalmologist can specialise in one of the following parts of the eye and diseases which include;
- Ocular oncology
- Refractive surgery
- Medical retina
- Vitreo-retinal surgery
Who then is an Optician?
The third eye care provider in the mix are opticians. Although this professional has a similar-sounding title to optometrists and ophthalmologists, they are quite different from eye doctors. An optician specialises in filling the prescriptions of lenses that ophthalmologists and optometrists prescribe for patients.
Typically, an optician will receive one or two years of education before becoming a professional. He or she will;
- Evaluate the prescription of the lens given by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
- Repair, dispense and replace frames, contacts and lenses.
- Measure a patient’s face to match glasses that are appropriate for their structure.
- Assist in the determination of the appropriate lens for a patient.
- Guide the patient in selecting a frame that will match the patient’s lifestyle or fashion.
Tips to look out for when choosing an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist
Before you pick an optometrist, find out what people have to say about him or her. Go through the reviews of both negative and positive comments before making a decision.
The affordability should not be your primary concern, but is also a factor worth considering.
In the medical world, experience matters a lot. An optometrist or ophthalmologist that has spent several years practising is always the perfect choice.
All the ophthalmologists and optometrist that are on your list should have the minimum credentials to get the job done. A general medical practitioner is not the same as a qualified ophthalmologist or optometrist.
An optometrist or ophthalmologist that use outdated equipment should not be your ideal choice. Such medical equipment can pose health risks and produce inaccurate results.
Who should you go to; an Ophthalmologist or Optometrist?
The condition of your eyes will determine the professional you will need to go to for treatments or routine eye checks. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are both trained to manage, diagnose and detect diseases.
If you have a severe eye condition like cataracts and glaucoma, it is recommended that you seek the services of a highly-trained medical doctor that will treat the problem quickly. For such situations, an ophthalmologist is preferable. An optometrist cannot perform eye surgery for you but can treat common problems like eye infections, dry eyes and a few chronic diseases.
However, instead of picking between either professional, you can employ the services of both of them. This setting is called co-management.
In co-management, an optometrist acts as the primary eye care provider and will refer you to an ophthalmologist for treatment plans and definitive diagnosis. Once the condition is controlled, the ophthalmologist then sends you back to your optometrist. The condition is then monitored, and post-operative eyecare is administered based on the recommendations of the specialist.
Vision Insurance and your Eyecare Provider Choice
A factor that should guide your decision when selecting an eye doctor provider is whether or not you have vision insurance. If the professional is an authorised provider under your vision insurance plan, then they might just be the first one to contact. In some cases, you may also be required to pay an additional expense for an eye examination, surgery or treatment.
The best way to get the information on which authorised professional is under your insurance plan is to contact them. Alternatively, many insurance companies post a directory of eye doctors that accept their plans on their websites.
Remember to ask how the insurance claims are handled when you get to the doctor’s office. On a few occasions, you may be required to pay the amount and submit the receipt to your insurance company.
Selecting an eye care provider based on the fee they charge is not the only factor to consider, but is definitely a significant one.
Ophthalmology and Optometry are two professions that are easily confused with each other. Knowing the job description of the professionals of each field will help you make the smart choice on who to go to when faced with a vision problem.