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When things are looking a little blurry — even with your glasses on — it’s a good sign that you’re due for an appointment with the eye doctor. (Though it’s recommended that you schedule a visit annually, even if you’re confident your vision hasn’t changed.) As you’re making your appointment, you might notice that your eye clinic has a roster of a couple of different types of eye doctors. Some have the letters MD behind their name, while others have OD. You think to yourself, “Is there a difference?”
We’re glad you asked — there is! If you’ve ever wondered what each type does (and who you should see for your eyecare) keep reading below.
What are the different types of eyecare providers?
There are three types of eyecare providers — ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. At your local, in-network eye doctor, you might notice all three perform different services. Each provider works hand-in-hand to assist in the treatment of vision problems, but they also have a few pretty distinct roles.
What is an ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are licensed to diagnose and treat all eye diseases, prescribe medication, perform eye surgery, and prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Ophthalmologists must complete at least eight years of medical training, including four years of medical school and four years of residency. Ophthalmologists can also continue their training to perform more specific eyecare needs.
What is an optometrist?
Optometrists are healthcare professionals who provide primary vision care. They are licensed to practice optometry, which involves performing eye exams, prescribing corrective lenses, detecting eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye-related diseases.
Optometrists aren’t medical doctors, but they do receive a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree after completing four years of optometry school post-undergrad.
What is an optician?
Opticians are technicians trained to design and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other tools used to correct eyesight. Opticians don’t write prescriptions for vision correction themselves — they use prescriptions provided by both ophthalmologists and optometrists. They also don’t test for, diagnose, or treat eye diseases.
You likely come across an optician after your annual eye exam, when it’s time to pick out those spiffy new eyeglasses or fresh batch of contact lenses. Your optician will measure a few things to make sure your eyewear is just right:
Pupillary distance: the distance between the pupils of your eyes.
Vertex distance: the distance between the back surface of your eyewear (like eyeglasses or contact lenses) and the front of your cornea.
Eye size: the horizontal width in millimeters of one of your eyeglass frame’s lenses.
Temple length: the measurement in millimeters of the “arms” of your eyeglass frame, which should fit horizontally and evenly on your face and comfortably on your ears.
Opticians typically have a high school diploma (or equivalent) and on-the-job training. Some have an associate’s degree or certificate, too.
Are there any other types of eye doctors?
Some ophthalmologists are trained to care for highly specialized areas of medical or surgical eyecare — these eye doctors are called subspecialists. You can visit a subspecialist for eye issues related to glaucoma, retina, cornea, pediatrics, neurology, plastic surgery, and more, for specific and complex conditions. This includes low vision specialists, too — ophthalmologists who assist those with vision loss that can’t be corrected with glasses, contacts, or surgery.
Keep this tip in mind when budgeting for specialized eyecare: a vision insurance plan may cover some (but not all) of your visits to the ophthalmologist. In some cases, your appointments could actually be covered by your health insurance instead, if they are seen as more medical in nature. (Like for reasons such as diabetes.) Nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism are not considered medical diagnoses.
Optometrist vs. ophthalmologist: How to choose the right type of eye doctor
Generally speaking, when you visit the eye doctor for your annual visit, you’ll most likely see an optometrist. If your optometrist detects that treatment (or surgery) is necessary for serious eye conditions, he or she may recommend you visit an ophthalmologist.
If you’re considering LASIK laser eye surgery, you can absolutely have conversations with your optometrist about if you’re a candidate, and concerns with the procedure itself. But ultimately, if you decide LASIK is right for you (more on that here), you’ll be referred to and treated by an ophthalmologist for the surgery itself, and then return to your optometrist for post-op care.
Finding an in-network optometrist or ophthalmologist with your vision insurance
It’s easy to see that a vision insurance plan can get you discounted rates when you purchase eyeglasses or contact lenses. But another important benefit is that your plan gives you access to a network of eye doctors that provide services at a low rate — sometimes as low as $15! Plus, if you choose to undergo LASIK laser eye surgery, you can save up to 15% off the retail price.*
And it’s even easier to see your provider list. With vision insurance from Kasasa Care (made possible by a partnership with KindHealth and VSP), you can easily find an eye doctor in your area in one simple search.
For those that live in a big city with tons of options in your ZIP code, you can refine your search using filters to find your perfect eyecare provider and meet your specific needs. We’re talking super specific — like only searching for eye doctors that carry a certain frame brand. (You know what you like, and we respect that.)
Another perk to visiting an in-network optometrist or ophthalmologist? You don’t need to worry about filing claims or doing extra paperwork. Just show up to your appointment and provide your member number — your clinic will take care of the rest.
Though we might have cleared up the differences between an ophthalmologist, optometrist, and optician, your vision might still be a little blurry. So start searching for your in-network provider or enroll in vision insurance today — and you’ll be on your way to rocking your new super-specific, brand-name frames (or contacts, if that’s your thing) in no time.
*Depending on your plan.