There are two types of Doctors that can examine eyes and actually write an eyeglass prescription.
The Ophthalmologist (MD) is the more “fully trained” Doctor that not only has eight years of education, (post high school) but also an additional four years of residence training. The MD’s primary focus is to take care of the medical needs of the eye, perform surgery as needed, and write any drug Rx that may be needed. Although the MD could write an eyeglass Rx, this is not their specialty; in fact many of them will have their “technician” do refractions (determine the eyeglass prescription) so that they might make better use of their time.
The Optometrist (OD) has a similar education to the MD, minus the residence training. The OD’s primary focus is to provide eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions. Ever since the eyewear business became a very lucrative business this century, the OD has typically made most of their money selling glasses. In fact it is very difficult to find an OD that does not sell glasses, or that does not have some type of direct relationship or involvement in eyewear.
The Optician is primarily qualified to “fill” eyeglass and/or contact lens prescriptions. Generally their job is to interpret the Rx, sell eyewear (and sometimes contact lenses), and fulfill all related eyewear needs. He or she is the person most knowledgeable about frame and lens selection including all of the related features and benefits. For the most part, there is no formal education required to be an Optician. However, many states do require that the individual must pass a written exam in order to be licensed.
For the most part there are two main things to consider for Doctor selection: Cost and need.
If you have good health insurance, then you may consider choosing an MD that will be covered. If you have a “Vision Plan” (sometimes related, but not the same as health insurance), you may have a covered exam with an OD. If you are paying 100% out-of-pocket and your goal is to get a thorough exam and an eyeglass Rx, then you probably should see an OD. Keep in mind that the cost of an eye exam can vary, and regardless of price, all OD’s perform the same “basic” exam and testing. If, during an exam by an OD, there is any discovery of the need for further medical care, the OD will refer you to an Ophthalmologist (MD).
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