I want to take a few minutes to explain the three O’s of eyecare. I talk to so many people who get them confused. I can not tell you how many times, over the course of my career, I have been called an obstetrician. Do you know how many times I have wanted to say, “No ma’am, I do not deliver babies, but how can I help you?” Yes, women have called me an obstetrician! I would understand if it was coming from a man, which is has numerous times, but when women get it wrong?!?!? All you can do is smile and move on, while you are internally shaking your head at them.
Now, for the first O
Optician – I am an optician. I do not perform eye exams. I do not diagnose medical problems with the eyes. What I do is interpret the prescription your doctor has written to discuss the variety of eye-wear solutions you may need in order to see your world clearly. Often, an optician helps select the correct spectacles or contacts based on your prescription. Different states have different requirements for someone to be an optician in the United States. Some states require a license, some require board certification, and other states have no requirements at all. You, as the patient, have every right to ask your optician how many years they have been an optician.
Because licensing is not required, it is not a bad idea to ask a few questions of your optician or to ask if there is someone with more experience. Please understand, the number of years as an optician does not mean they are a better one. I have worked with opticians who have been in the industry less than 5 years and they were great opticians just as I have worked with opticians who have been in the industry for 15 years and they were so far behind in technology and extremely complacent I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. Some things to consider; Is the optician making recommendations about product and telling you WHY they recommend it? Do you feel like they are building your eye-wear with you in mind or do you feel like they are just giving you the same thing they sell everyone else? If you are using managed care (insurance) do they sound like they truly understand your benefits and want to maximize your saving potential?
No matter how great the prescription written by your doctor is, if the optician filling it isn’t doing his / her job, your vision may be slightly compromised. It is perfectly ok to ask questions to make sure you are getting someone you feel confident in.
Opticians are responsible for helping you pick out the right frame, select the correct lenses for your prescriptions, as well as they right options to meet your needs. You can go anywhere from the basics to a fully customized pair of glasses. For me, personally, the more I can customize and be creative, the more fun I have with it. Not every optician is like that.
Some offices also have their opticians dispense contacts and other offices have a designated contact lens technician. Sometimes those decisions are state regulated and other times, they are based on office preferences.
If you do get your new glasses and you’re struggling to see out of them, you should have an expectation your optician will work with you to troubleshoot the problem BEFORE you make an appointment with the prescribing doctor.
I always say it is OK to be just as picky when you’re choosing an optician as you are when you’re choosing your eye doctor. Not every optician is good. Sometimes a bad optician comes from being trained by another bad optician. It is my goal to help other opticians understand how important their role is in eye care.
Here is something to think about…..most optometrists and ophthalmologists only get a short course (sometimes not even a full class) on dispensing eye-wear if they get any training at all. Their continuing education is usually focused on medical areas of the eyes, so, unless they just truly enjoy learning about new lens technology, they don’t normally know a lot about the different options available to fill your eyeglass prescription and will often refer you back to their optician with any questions you have.
Now, let’s move on to the other two O’s…..
Optometrist – their names are usually followed by O.D. (Doctors of optometry) Optometrists provide primary vision care. Over the years, the variety of items they can treat have increased. They no longer just provide a prescription. They can treat a variety of eye health concerns as well, such as pink eye, dry eye, corneal scratches, just to name a few. They also do diabetic eye exams. All too often I hear patients say, “I see an ophthalmologist because I have diabetes” You CAN see an optometrist. I always say it’s best to schedule an appointment with an optometrist and let them refer you to an ophthalmologist if necessary.
Ophthalmologist – Their names are followed by M.D. They are medical doctors who specialize in eye health. They are licensed to practice medicine and perform surgeries. In many offices, ophthalmologists do not see patients for routine eye exams anymore. Sometimes, when you do see an ophthalmologist for routine eye exams, your refraction (The which is better, A or B) is not done by them, but by a technician and then they just come in and do a quick verification. Over the years, I can say more prescription remakes take place by ophthalmologists than by optometrists. I’m not saying all ophthalmologists are bad at writing eyeglass prescriptions, I’m just saying, if you truly are in need of a routine eye health examination, consider what type of doctor you are scheduling with.
As with every medical profession, there are always those who specialize in one particular field.
For example, with optometry, you have those who specialize in:
Pediatric eye health, Vision Therapy, Low Vision, Contact Lenses just to name a few
With Ophthalmology, some areas of specialty are:
Refractive Surgery, Cataract Surgery, Retinal Issues just to name a few
It is always best to find the best doctor(s) for your particular eye care needs.
I hope this breaks the three O’s down and you have a better understanding of the difference between Opticians, Optometrists, and Ophthalmologists……and, of course, obstetricians! 🤓