Guide to Choosing the Right Eye Doctor for YouNovember 6, 2018
Are you dealing with fuzzy sight these days? Or, are you noticing halos, glare, or floaters in your vision or that your eyes are chronically dry? If so, you’ll want to set up an appointment with an eye doctor. But, you’ll want to see the right type of eye doctor for your specific eye-care needs.
But, what makes a good eye doctor? Selecting one can be a bit tricky. Numerous types of eye specialists focus on various vision and eye-related areas.
Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist
Before making this decision, you’ll first want to determine the type of eye care you require. If you’re looking for routine eye care, would like a vision exam, and are not noticing any specific eye or vision issues, you might choose an optometrist.
But, if you think you may have a serious eye problem, have a family history of eye diseases, or if there’s been a change in your vision, an ophthalmologist makes the most sense. For instance, certain eye diseases and conditions, including glaucoma, cataracts, and lazy eye, and the side effects of diabetes, blood pressure, and heart disease, may require you to see an ophthalmologist for care and ongoing monitoring.
Education of an Optometrist
Optometrists are “doctors of optometry” because of their four years of postgraduate optometry training and following the same legal standards as other doctors — including passing the national board exam and continuing their education to maintain their current status in practice.
Once they receive their optometry degree, some optometrists also complete a two-year residency in subspecialty areas, like an ocular disease, geriatric eye care, or neuro-optometry, to get them ready to care for eye conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Optometrists perform vision tests and offer treatment options, including corrective lenses. Optometrists can prescribe:
- Contact lenses
- Vision therapy
- Low vision aids
They diagnose vision problems, such as:
- Myopia: This is the clinical name for nearsightedness.
- Hyperopia: This is the clinical name for farsightedness.
- Astigmatism: This is the term for misshapen corneas.
- Presbyopia: This is the term for age-related loss of focusing.
An optometrist can also diagnose certain eye diseases, such as:
- Glaucoma: This group of diseases damages the optic nerve, usually due to increased pressure in the eye, and can result in vision loss.
- Macular degeneration: This condition causes vision loss as the center of the retina deteriorates. It’s the leading cause of vision loss in the U.S.
- Chronic dry eye: Dry eye becomes chronic when a person regularly doesn’t produce enough quality tears to nourish, lubricate, and protect the eye
- Diabetic retinopathy: Poorly controlled blood sugar can damage the retina, leading to blurred vision, dark areas, difficulty seeing colors, or blindness.
- Conjunctivitis: Commonly called pinkeye, this condition is the infection or inflammation of the inner eyelid.
In all states, optometrists can perform the type of examination needed for diagnosing severe eye diseases like macular degeneration and glaucoma and can prescribe and use topical medications like eye drops, ointments, and injectable medicines.
Also, in many states, optometrists can prescribe oral medicines, such as antibiotics, pain medications, and oral steroids, for numerous eye conditions.
An optometrist might also have training in surgical procedures for things like:
- Corneal injury
- Foreign body removal
- Removal of skin folds around the eyes or other surface lesions
- Diseases pertaining to the eyelids and tear ducts
- Other conditions
Each state has different guidelines on what specific procedures an optometrist can perform. For example, in some states, optometrists have acquired a license enabling them to perform laser surgery.
They can also provide pre-operative and post-operative care. However, if you have a severe eye disease or condition, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist.
What Is an Ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a doctor who has completed an extensive amount of specialized training on eyes, including anatomy, physiology, and diseases.
They differ from optometrists and opticians in their training levels, education, and what conditions they can diagnose and treat.
Education of an Ophthalmologist
Along with their undergraduate degree and four-year medical degree, they’ve also completed a four-year ophthalmology residency program with both a surgical and medical focus.
That means they have a 12-year background of college-level and postgraduate training, as opposed to the typical optometrist’s eight years and an optician’s four years.
Ophthalmologists can be doctors of osteopathy or medical doctors, but either way, the training is the same. Also, they might be either board-certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology or the American Board of Ophthalmology.
Along with this, they are state-licensed and are expected to stay abreast of new techniques with continuing medical education.
Inside the ophthalmology specialty, there are some subspecialists who have advanced training and knowledge about certain parts of the eye, like the:
- Cornea: Corneal conditions such as Fuch’s dystrophy.
- Retina: Retinal conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.
- Eye diseases: General eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
- The optic nerve: Nerve conditions such as optic neuritis.
For instance, retinal specialists treat both diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, as in retinal disease. There are also ophthalmologists who become specialists in things like glaucoma genetics or eye cancer.
Frequently, these highly specialized eye doctors conduct research and could work at major eye treatment facilities or medical centers. They may perform procedures and surgeries on the eye related to these diseases.
As both a medical doctor and a surgical specialist, ophthalmologists have received training on how to perform eye surgeries, including laser surgery, but not all ophthalmologists do.
If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial, or you receive a diagnosis of a rare, aggressive, or highly specialized eye disorder requiring ongoing treatment, one of these specialists could be a great choice. They might also be available for second opinions or consultations, or might be willing to work with your regular eye doctor and share in your care, if you live far away
A Note About Opticians
At some point during your eye-care process, you’ll likely work with an optician. Opticians aren’t doctors, and can’t administer eye exams. Typically, their education consists of a one- or two-year degree, or they have a certificate or diploma. Opticians specialize in fitting, designing, and dispensing devices for correcting your eyesight, such as glasses, low-vision aids, contact lenses, and ophthalmic prosthetics. They can check your lens prescriptions, help fit eyeglasses to your face, and repair eyeglass frames. Besides working in eye-care centers and retail stores, opticians work in medical offices and hospitals.
An optician’s training will vary and could consist of on-the-job training, and either a two-year associate degree or four-year degree.
In the U.S., opticians registered with the Society to Advance Opticianry, a nationwide credentialing society, have a four-year optical science college degree and advanced certification. Many opticians also have a state license in fitting and dispensing contact lenses and eyewear, but some states do not have licensing requirements. Pennsylvania and Delaware, for example, do not require any licensing for opticians, but New Jersey does.
Overall, opticians lack the training to provide diagnoses or treatments for eye diseases. But, they can fit you with vision aids or eyewear to correct your vision after you’ve received an eye problem or vision loss diagnosis.
What Makes Your Choice of Eye Doctor So Important?
Eye-care experts stress when you catch eye diseases early, they’re treatable. Without treatment, it could lead to permanent blindness.
Most individuals rely on an eye doctor to check their vision and evaluate the health of their eyes at least once a year. As they get older, many eye-care patients end up having to wear corrective lenses and need an adjustment of their prescriptions.
Unfortunately, many people don’t have their eyes or vision checked for a disease that could rob them of their vision, like glaucoma and macular degeneration. These two conditions above are the top causes of gradual vision loss and blindness in older adults, along with diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.
During an eye exam, the eye doctor uses special instruments to:
- Screen for conditions that lead to vision loss
- Look deep inside your eyes to check the status of your optic nerve and retina
- Check your eye pressure
As you grow older, your risk of glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other eye conditions greatly increases. Macular degeneration and glaucoma, in some cases, don’t exhibit symptoms until you begin experiencing vision loss, which is why it’s essential that you see your eye doctor regularly for an assessment of your ocular health.
Getting a Comprehensive Dilated Eye Exam
Eye doctors provide a special type of exam to screen for eye-related conditions. It’s called a “comprehensive dilated eye exam,” in which they place eye drops in your eyes to numb and dilate your pupils so they can see the inside structures of your eye.
Only optometrists and ophthalmologists have the specialized knowledge and training to use the instruments for this exam and dilate the eyes. Therefore, despite you getting regular eye exams, you should also look for an eye doctor who can perform this special exam on your eyes.
You should have a comprehensive dilated exam once a year after you turn 60, according to the National Eye Institute. However, African-Americans need to start getting these exams annually after the age of 40 because of their higher glaucoma risk. You also should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam done annually if you have diabetes.
Which Type of Eye Doctor Is Right for You?
If you have healthy eyes and don’t need specialized surgical or medical treatment, your personal preference determines which eye doctor is best to perform your routine exam.
If you have a medical eye problem already — such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or macular degeneration — it’s essential you find an eye doctor specialized and skilled in the treatment and monitoring of your condition. In many cases, you might require surgical or medical eye care from a highly trained ophthalmologist.
How to Find a Good Eye Doctor
Eye doctors should be currently licensed to practice eye care in your state and have received certification through an accredited medical institution. Find out if they’re certified and have earned their degree. Ask how long they’ve been in practice and what their specialty areas are, such as:
- Cataract surgery
- Macular degeneration
When questioning about the eye doctor’s services, find out what happens if there’s an issue requiring treatment beyond that doctor’s scope of care. Which surgical and medical specialists do they refer to and what is their location?
Specific steps you can take to find a good eye doctor include to:
- Confer With Your Friends and Family Members
Word-of-mouth referrals are usually the best way to find a competent, reputable, and caring eye doctor and to avoid negativities when having your eyes examined.
Estimates show 75 percent of individuals in the U.S. wear corrective lenses. Chances are, you may know some of them. Try social media — reach out to your friends on social media and ask for some recommendations.
- Ask Your Primary Care Physician
Your primary care doctor often refers patients to specialists, including eye specialists. Your primary care doctor is also completely aware of your specific health needs and can point you to the best eye doctor for your situation.
- Review Professional Eye Organizations
If your friends and doctor can’t help, you can do research on your own. Organizations like the American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Optometric Association have website directories. You can search these directories to locate licensed eye doctors near you. Search by subspecialty and view their experience and credentials.
A doctor’s professional memberships and affiliations can help confirm expertise in a specific area of practice — for instance, ophthalmologists might be part of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons or the American Society of Retinal Specialists. Some organizations have rigorous standards for fellowship or membership, such as the American Academy of Optometry.
- Know If Your Insurance Plan Covers the Doctor
As you’re narrowing your search on what to look for in an eye doctor, find one within your insurance network. If you don’t, you may end up with an out-of-network eye doctor, and you’ll have to pay out of pocket. Call your insurance company and see if they can provide you with some leads for a good eye doctor.
If you have health insurance or vision insurance to cover your eye care, you’ll also want to choose an eye doctor who accepts your insurance and is an authorized provider under your plan.
Usually, all you need to do is make a phone call to the doctor’s office and provide them with your insurance information. You may also find your insurance company has a directory of eye doctors on their website who accept your vision plan.
Most ophthalmologists and optometrists who offer general eye care for the whole family take Medicare for elderly patients. However, Medicare Part A and B don’t typically cover routine eye exams for contact lenses or eyeglasses — just medically necessary eye care. But, annual eye exams are covered with Part B every 12 months if you’re at a high risk for glaucoma or have diabetes.
- Read About the Doctor’s Credentials, Experience, and Reviews
Eye doctors should, as mentioned earlier, be currently licensed to practice in your state and certified through an accredited medical institution. Research their experience and credentials on Healthgrades.com. You can also search the American Board of Optometry’s website.
- Review Patient Satisfaction Surveys
Going through what others have said about an eye doctor can provide you with insight on how they practice eye care and how they operate their optometry practice. Patient satisfaction surveys generally ask individuals about their experience with wait times, scheduled appointments, staff friendliness, and office environment.
You can find out how well these people trust the doctor, how well the eye doctor answered their questions and how much time they spent with their patients. You can ask the eye care professional if they can provide you with these or check on Health Grades.
- Research Hospital Quality
If you decide to go with an ophthalmologist, remember, their hospital is your hospital. Because of this, take the quality of care at the ambulatory surgery center or hospital into consideration. Hospital quality is an essential factor since patients at high-quality hospitals have fewer complications and higher survival rates. Also, consider the hospital’s location. If you have to go there for treatment or testing, you’ll want a location that encourages timely care.
- Evaluate Communication Style
Select a doctor you feel comfortable talking to and who can support your information needs. When you consult with an eye doctor for the first time, ask them some questions, and notice how they respond. Do they welcome your questions and try and answer them as thoroughly as possible, so you’ll understand? Find an eye doctor who seems interested in getting to know you, who will respect your decision-making process, and consider your preferences for treatment.
- Consider the Eye-Care Needs of Your Family
If you have children, you may want to find a doctor who is right for your little ones just as much as they are with you. That makes things a bit more convenient for everyone. Also, you may want to consider how long it takes to get to the office since it could mean time off from school or work to go to appointments.
- Learn About the Eye Doctor’s Availability
With optometrists, do they offer weekend and evening hour availability? Do they have openings within the week of your well-vision exam? With disease management and ophthalmology care, it can be tough to find a doctor open for weekend and evening appointments.
It’s essential you find out if you can obtain immediate care or at least get in to see a doctor quickly. Most practices of higher quality will triage your problems if you’re searching for immediate assistance and will work you into their schedules. Keep in mind high-quality eye doctors often become booked up to several weeks in advance, but they should still take great effort in seeing you as soon as possible based on your symptoms.
When you think you’ve finally found an eye doctor you like, set up an appointment for your first consultation. After your consultation, ask yourself some questions.
- How long did you spend in the waiting room?
- Were you happy with the care you received?
- How did the doctor communicate?
- Were you comfortable?
Nobody wants to spend an hour in the waiting room. They want to have their appointment at the time it was scheduled. Likewise, no one wants to feel as though they received mediocre care or a hasty optometrist who’s trying to push you out the door as fast as possible.
The best eye doctor will listen to all your concerns and questions and give you honest, detailed answers. If they seem to brush you off or dodge around your questions, this isn’t a good sign, and you may want to search elsewhere.
If you’re going to build a long-term relationship with this eye doctor, you want to ensure you’re comfortable and have a good experience. If anything set you on edge during your appointment, you may want to look further.
Talk to a PRN Physician Recommended Nutriceuticals® Eye-Care Expert
Here at PRN, we’re committed to helping you make the best decisions for your health. We partner with ophthalmologists and optometrists to offer evidence-based nutriceuticals to enhance patients’ long-term eye health.
PRN’s product line includes those for chronic dry eye, macular health, for people who have diabetic retinopathy, and more. We encourage you to talk to a PRN product adviser or customer care representative with any questions you have. Complete our contact form or call us at 800-900-2303.