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Optician, Optometrist, or Ophthalmologist: Which Do You Need to See?

At EYEcenter we know our patients like to be informed. We get a lot of questions regarding the differences between our various roles at the office. We created this guide with the help of VSP to clear up confusion, so you can be sure you’re asking the right questions of the right people.

Whom you see may depend on the level of care you need.

  • An optician is a specialist in fitting eyeglasses and making lenses to correct vision problems.
  • An optometrist is a primary healthcare doctor of the eye and visual system who provides comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and dispensing, detection of disease in the eye, and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.

An optometrist may perform an eye exam and write a prescription for corrective lenses, while an optician may fill that prescription.

Now let’s add one more “o” to the mix:

  • An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in all aspects of eye care including diagnosis, management, and surgery of ocular diseases and disorders.

It’s common for ophthalmologists or optometrists to work side-by-side with opticians to serve a patient’s overall eye care and eyewear needs.

Let’s use a real-life scenario: an optometrist conducts your thorough eye exam and prescribes corrective lenses. You’re then escorted to the eyeglass area where an optician helps you select your frames and lens options. If surgery is indicated or if the optometrist detects an eye concern that is outside of his or her scope of practice, you may be referred to an ophthalmologist for more advanced care. Now keep in mind, this is one typical scenario, but not necessarily indicative of all situations.

The following comparison gives a general overview of the differences in the United States; however, requirements and scope of licensure can vary greatly by state.

Optician Optometrist Ophthalmologist
Specializes in filling lens prescriptions, assisting patients with lens and frame selection and fitting X
Has a one or two-year degree or certification X
A doctor of optometry (O.D.) Education includes 4 years of post-graduate doctoral training X
A medical doctor (M.D.) Post-graduate training includes 4 years of medical school, residency and internship training, and an additional 4-5 years of postgraduate training in ophthalmology. X
Performs vision correction exams, or “refractions” X X
Fits and prescribes contact lenses and prescription eyeglass lenses X X
Diagnose and treat conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, and treatment of some eye-related conditions X X
Prescribes certain medications for eye conditions X X
Provides vision therapy services X X
Can provide pre- and post-operative care following eye surgery X X
Can perform surgeries related to the eye X
Diagnose and treat complex medical eye conditions  X
Prescribes a broad range of medications for more complicated conditions  X

Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology, World Council of Ophthalmology

The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

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