If you’ve ever been confused about the difference between an optometrist, an ophthalmologist, and an optician, you aren’t alone. These types of eye care providers do share some of the same responsibilities, but they have unique qualifications and areas of expertise.

Which of these eye care providers can help you resolve your concerns about your eye health or vision? How can you choose which doctor is fit for you out of the huge number of eye doctors out there? Let’s dive into these questions to make sure your eye care needs are met.

What Are the 3 Types of Eye Doctors?

What Are the 3 Types of Eye Doctors?

You’ve probably heard each of the terms before, but you may not know the difference between the three types of eye doctors. These three professions are optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians.

  • Optometrists are the eye doctors you need for important primary care eye services such as your annual eye exam or medication for dry eyes.
  • Ophthalmologists can treat eye diseases but also perform surgeries to correct problems.
  • Opticians, which you may see when you pick out the frames for your new glasses, are not technically medical doctors. They can dispense prescription contact lenses and glasses but are not qualified to do the eye exam itself.

Generally, your eye care journey will probably start at a well-reviewed local optometrist. An optometrist is the doctor that gives you your annual eye exam and writes the prescription for your contacts or eyeglasses. Your optometrist can treat some common ailments of the eye like dry eye, glaucoma, cataracts, color blindness, and more.  

If there is a problem with your eyes that requires surgical intervention, your optometrist may refer you to a trusted ophthalmologist. These doctors treat and can even perform surgery to help with a wide variety of eye conditions.

Is an Optometrist Better Than an Ophthalmologist?

Is an Optometrist Better Than an Ophthalmologist?

The biggest difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist is the training they receive. An optometrist receives specialized training to become an O.D., or Doctor of Optometry. While an optometrist provides a wide variety of services, like checking the general health of your eyes, performing your eye exams, and prescribing glasses or contacts, an ophthalmologist focuses on performing surgeries that treat diseases of the eye.

If you’re selecting an eye doctor, the first question to consider is whether you need an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. Your optometrist is a trusted primary care provider for your eyes who oversees the general health and well-being of your vision. They can test you for common eye concerns depending on your age and medical history and detect abnormalities. 

Should your eye exam reveal something significant that requires surgery to fix, you can trust your optometrist to refer you to an ophthalmologist when the time is right.

What Qualities Should I Look for in an Optometrist?

What Qualities Should I Look for in an Optometrist?

The most obvious criterion for selecting any eye doctor is based on your needs as the patient. Your goal for any type of eye doctor should be the same: finding a skilled medical professional that you trust with your health. How can you find the right doctor for your needs?

Seek recommendations 

First, seek recommendations. Talk with your friends and others in your social network to determine what their experiences have been with their eye doctor. Asking for a direct referral is a great way to find an eye doctor simply because the person making the referral is giving you a first-hand opinion of their experience with that professional. 

You can also look on medical review sites such as Healthgrades to see what other consumers of these services have experienced.

Check your insurance 

If you have vision insurance, also check to see which eye doctors are in your network. The benefit of these doctors is that not only will you receive a better rate overall, but your insurance carrier will reimburse you at a higher amount. 

Many vision plans cover routine annual exams with an approved optometrist for no additional out-of-pocket costs. Check with your insurance carrier to find out the details of your particular plan.  

Look for a good connection

Ultimately, you want your optometrist to have good communication skills that help the two of you connect. You should feel very comfortable asking questions of any of your doctors, no matter their specialty. 

A good optometrist can easily explain the status of your vision, any problems you’re having, and work with you closely to develop a treatment plan, whether it’s a new set of glasses, dry eye drops, or something more serious that requires a referral to an ophthalmologist.

Be open about referral concerns 

If your optometrist refers you to an ophthalmologist for a specific problem, it is usually based on a long-standing relationship between your primary optometrist and the specialty eye doctor. However, it’s okay for you to ask your optometrist why they’re referring you to a specific ophthalmologist. 

Remember that you and your optometrist are a team, and you can work together to determine whether a referred provider is the best fit.

Find Your Trusted Health Champion at Bayhead Eye Centre

At Bayhead Eye Centre, our board-certified optometrists provide professional, full-scope primary eye care for young children through elderly adults. Our care is tailored to you and your individual needs.

Are you ready to have an eye health partner on your side? Request an appointment with our highly experienced team and skilled medical providers. Let’s work together to create the best treatment plan for you.