O’s for the Eyes

So, you have an appointment with an eye care professional.  Do you know what they’re licensed to do?  Many people don’t.  The following professionals all work with eyes in one capacity or another and their titles begin with the letter “o,” but there are important differences in their education, training, and areas of expertise.

Here are three types of eye care professionals and how they’re distinct from each other.

Ophthalmologists: According to the Digital Journal of Ophthalmology, ophthalmologists are doctors who specialize in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system, with a focus on the prevention of eye disease and injury. These professionals either have a doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree or an osteopathic medicine degree (D.O). The latter have been trained to treat the person as a whole (often referred to as a “holistic” approach) and received specialized instruction in eye care.

After completing an undergraduate college or university program (typically four years), an individual must complete medical school (typically four years) and four to five years of additional specialized medical, surgical, and refractive training and work experience providing eye care.

Ophthalmologists diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform eye surgery, and prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems. Ophthalmologists with an M.D. degree are licensed by the Medical Board of California, and ophthalmologists with a D.O. degree are licensed by the Osteopathic Medical Board of California.

Optometrists: These eye care professionals are optometric doctors. Optometrists, like ophthalmologists, complete an undergraduate college or university program (typically four years) and then optometry school (also typically four years), and receive a doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree.

Optometrists primarily provide vision care through comprehensive eye examinations to determine the overall health of the eye, visual acuity, abnormalities, and the diagnosis of visual changes. Optometrists diagnose, treat, and manage these visual changes through prescribing medication for some eye diseases or by prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses such as eyeglasses or contact lenses. Optometrists are licensed by the California State Board of Optometry.

Opticians: Opticians, or spectacle and contact lens dispensers, fit and dispense glasses and contacts according to the prescription from an ophthalmologist or optometrist. They do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction, and are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases. Opticians are registered by the California State Board of Optometry.

Before making an appointment with an eye care professional, check their license or registration status. You can check online via board websites: Medical Board of California at www.mbc.ca.gov, Osteopathic Medical Board at www.ombc.ca.gov, and California State Board of Optometry at www.optometry.ca.gov.

Reprinted from Consumer Connection Magazine – Winter 2017 “Ophthalmologists, optometrists, or opticians – who does what?”  To read the latest issue of Consumer Connection Magazine, click here.

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