To the average person, it can be confusing to know the difference between an optometrist and ophthalmologist - and to know what type of doctor is best for you.
Eye exams can be administered by either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) estimates there are 30,000 optometrists in the country, accounting for about 70% of the eye care market. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors specially trained to treat eye diseases and perform eye surgery. Approximately 15,000 ophthalmologists practice in the United States. If you're going for your annual eye exam, the procedures and tests will generally be the same regardless of the type of doctor.
Optometrists or ophthalmologists can work in a private practice or retail setting. Retail chains typically have at least five locations with evening and/or weekend hours. These extended hours and convenient locations make retail opticals a popular choice among consumers. More than 50% of eyewear dollars are spent at retail locations, according to Jobson Optical Research. Retail-affiliated providers must meet the same standards as those in private practices, ensuring members receive consistently high quality care. Private practice doctors offer smaller, more intimate offices. Regardless of the setting, all optometrists and ophthalmologists must meet the same quality of care standards, ensuring members receive a consistent exam experience.
If you need eyeglasses, you'll need to take the prescription to a dispensary. Most eye doctors have dispensaries on-site to make it easy for patients to get their eyewear. Some dispensaries have on-site lab facilities, but many send the glasses to outside labs for fabrication. Opticians, licensed professionals who are trained in the fit and usage of eyewear, work in dispensaries and will assist you in selecting frames, lenses and lens options. The optician will also help fit and adjust the eyewear to your face after it's been fabricated. Ultimately, the provider you choose will depend on your personal preferences, appointment availability and location.