What's the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists?
Optometrist vs. opthamologist? Know the difference between these two professionals and choose the best professional when it comes to eye care.
Do you know the difference between an ophthalmologist and optometrist? More than 90 percent of respondents to a recent Angie’s List online poll say they do. Only 71 percent, however, correctly defined the distinctions between the two professions. Figuring out what the eye care providers can — and legally cannot — do can be complex.
To help clarify, optometrists are trained to provide routine eye care, such as exams and prescriptions for glasses and contacts, but they’re not medical doctors. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors educated and trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, including the treatment of a wide array of diseases and performing complicated surgical procedures.
Muddying the waters even more, as our cover story discusses, is the push from optometrists in several states to expand their scope of practice to include various procedures that are currently limited to ophthalmologists. Some states have already passed laws allowing optometrists to perform certain surgical procedures, administer injections like local anesthesia and prescribe more medications.
Who you should see for certain procedures has sparked intense debate, with ophthalmologists arguing optometrists are not adequately educated and trained to deal with the risks and potential emergencies that can arise during high-tech laser surgeries and other procedures. But optometrists maintain they now go through sufficient preparation to safely and effectively perform more of these services and give patients the treatment needed.
While 100 percent of Angie’s List online poll respondents would go to an optometrist for an eye exam, only 2 percent say they’d have them administer an injection to treat macular degeneration or other problems; 4 percent would consider an optometrist for laser eye surgery; and 8 percent would see an optometrist to treat glaucoma. All together, 35 percent of members who took our poll saw an optometrist in the last year, 23 percent visited an ophthalmologist, and 14 percent went to both.
Your right as a prospective patient is to make an informed decision. With so many states at least considering proposals to expand optometrists’ scope of practice, it’s important you understand your state laws and regulations before seeking treatment for issues beyond basic eye care. Be sure to narrow your list of providers based on the type of services you need.
If you’re not sure whether to go with an optometrist or ophthalmologist, be conservative in your approach. Carefully research their background, training and experience. Both should be certified by an accredited institution and licensed to practice by your state optometry or medical board. Confirm credentials with your state or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The bottom line: Safety should always come first.
That’s how I see it.