An eye care professional (ECP) is an individual who provides a service related to the eyes or vision. It is any healthcare worker involved in eye care, from one with a small amount of post-secondary training to practitioners with a doctoral level of education.
Ophthalmologists are “…medical and osteopathic doctors who provide comprehensive eye care, including medical, surgical and optical care.” In the US, this requires four years of college, four years of medical school, one year general internship, three years of residency, then optional fellowship for 1 to 2 years (typically 12–14 years of education after high school). An ophthalmologist can perform all the tests an optometrist can and in addition is a fully qualified medical doctor and surgeon. Ophthalmologists undergo extensive and intensive medical and surgical exams to qualify and entrance criteria to a training program is highly competitive. Some ophthalmologists receive additional advanced training (or fellowship) in specific areas of ophthalmology, such as retina, cornea, glaucoma, laser vision correction, pediatric ophthalmology, uveitis, pathology, or neuro-ophthalmology.
Ophthalmic medical practitioner
An ophthalmic medical practitioner is a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in ophthalmic conditions but who has not completed a specialization in ophthalmology.
The World Council of Optometry, a member of the World Health Organization, defines optometrists as “…the primary healthcare practitioners of the eye and visual system who provide comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and dispensing, detection/diagnosis and management of disease in the eye, and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.”
A doctor of optometry (OD) attends four years of college, four years of optometry school, and then an optional one-year residency. Optometrists undergo extensive and intensive refractive and medical training mainly pertaining to the eye and the entrance criteria to attend optometry school are also highly competitive. An OD is fully qualified to treat eye diseases and disorders and specializes in optics and vision correction. Permissions granted by an optometric license vary by location.
- In the United States and Canada, the standard education is four years of college and four years of optometry school at an accredited OD program. An additional one to two years of residency, fellowship and/or specialty training, are required to qualify for certain positions. All optometry colleges in the U.S. currently provide training in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and minimally invasive procedures, such as foreign body removal and meibomian gland expression.
- In the United States, optometrists are defined (in some cases) as doctors under Medicare, but laws pertaining to optometry vary by state.
- All states allow treatment of eye diseases, including the use of topical pharmaceuticals (by properly licensed optometrists)
- 48/50 states allow prescription of oral medications to treat eye diseases
- Many states allow optometrists to perform injections in and around the eye.
- Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Louisiana allow optometrists to perform certain laser surgeries.
- Outside of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and the Philippines, optometrists are often limited in their use of pharmaceuticals. In most of these countries, optometry is either a 4- or 5-year college degree and they are not classified as doctors.
Orthoptists specialize in diagnosis and management of eye movement and coordination problems, misalignment of the visual axis, convergence and accommodation problems, and conditions such as amblyopia, strabismus, and binocular vision disorders, as outlined by the International Orthoptic Association. They may assist ophthalmologists in surgery, teach orthoptic students, students of other allied health professions, medical students, and ophthalmology residents and fellows, act as vision researchers, perform vision screening, perform low vision assessments and act as clinical administrators.
Ocularists specialize in the fabrication and fitting of ocular prostheses for people who have lost eyes due to trauma or illness.
Opticians specialize in the fitting and fabrication of ophthalmic lenses, spectacles, contact lenses, low vision aids and ocular prosthetics. They may also be referred to as an "optical dispenser", "dispensing optician", "ophthalmic dispenser". The prescription for the corrective lenses must be supplied by an ophthalmologist, optometrist or in some countries an orthoptist. This is a regulated profession in most jurisdictions.
Ophthalmic medical personnel
A collective term for allied health personnel in ophthalmology. It is often used to refer to specialized personnel (unlike ocularists or opticians). In many countries these allied personnel may just be known as an "ophthalmic assistant". Their training is usually combined with a two or three year applied science degree and they assist an ophthalmologist or optometrist in the hospital or clinic with vision testing.
In the USA the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology administers OMP certifications:
Oculist is an older term that was primarily used to describe eye care professionals that are trained and specialized in the eye care field, specifically ophthalmologists and optometrists. The term is no longer used in the United States.
A vision therapist, usually either an orthoptist or optometrist, works with patients that require vision therapy, such as low vision patients. Commonly, vision therapy is performed in children who develop problems with their vision mostly because they are using their eyes up close. This type of therapy is however generally used in patients who need visual correction but for whom the corrective lenses are not enough to reverse the condition. Visual therapy in children is performed by optometrists who specialize in children's eye care. To specialize in vision therapy, doctors must complete extensive post-graduate training beyond their optometric degree, at which time they are eligible to sit for their national boards to become fully certified as specialists in children's vision. A doctor's title after passing the national board in vision therapy is Fellow in the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, or F.C.O.V.D. Optometrists who provide vision therapy but who have not yet sat for their certification exams are board-eligible Associates in the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. Vision therapists typically use prisms, eye patches, filtered lenses, and computerized systems to conduct therapy sessions.
Most eye care professionals do not practice iridology, citing a significant lack of scientific evidence for the practice.
Distinction between ophthalmologists, optometrists and orthoptists
In a gross oversimplification, it can be said that ophthalmologists are eye surgeons and primary eye care physicians while optometrists are primary eye care providers. There is considerable overlap in scope of practice between professions. Laws regarding licensure vary by location, but typically ophthalmologists are licensed to provide the same care as an optometrist, with the addition of surgical options. In most locations surgery is the biggest difference between the two professions. Optometrists frequently refer patients to ophthalmologists when the condition requires surgery or intra-ocular injection.
Historically, ophthalmology has developed as a specialization of medical doctors while optometry originated as a profession that fitted people with glasses. This difference has decreased as the majority of optometrists screen for and treat eye disease and many ophthalmologists fit people with corrective lenses. The difference in background previously caused some conflict between the two professions. Ophthalmologists have voiced concern that an optometrist's educational background is different from their own. Optometrists have criticized ophthalmologists of caring for the health structure of the eye while letting other vision disorders go untreated. For example, consider a patient with glaucoma and spasm of accommodation. Ophthalmologists would be concerned that an optometrist would fail to identify or otherwise mistreat the glaucoma. Optometrist would worry that the ophthalmologist would fail to identify or mistreat the spasm of accommodation. As of 2012, both these concerns are invalid because the education of both types of professionals prepares them to handle both conditions. (This may not be true globally as the definition and education of both professions varies country to country.) Because of cooperation between optometrists and ophthalmologists, the quality of care depends more on the abilities of the individual doctors than it does what type of professional they are.
Orthoptists specialize in the diagnosis and management of problems with eye movement and coordination, such as misalignment of the visual axis, binocular vision problems, and pre/post surgical care of strabismus patients. They do not directly treat ocular disease with medications or surgery. Orthoptists are trained to treat patients using optical aids and eye exercises[failed verification]. Orthoptists are primarily found working alongside ophthalmologists and optometrists to co-manage binocular vision treatment, visual field loss management and accommodative therapy. They often do standard eye and vision testing along with computerised axillary testing.
All three types of professional perform screenings for common ocular problems affecting children (such as amblyopia and strabismus) and adults (such as cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy). All are required to participate in ongoing continuing education courses to maintain licensure and stay current on the latest standards of care.
- American Academy of Ophthalmology
- American Academy of Optometry
- American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus
- American Optometric Association
- British Optical Association
- College of Optometrists
- College of Optometrists in Vision Development
- International Orthoptic Association
- Irish College of Ophthalmologists
- Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology
- Optometric Extension Program
- The Institute of Optometry
- World Council of Optometry
- Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers
- "About the Academy". American Academy of Ophthalmology. Archived from the original on 19 December 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- "Our partners". World Council of Optometry. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- "Who is an optometrist?". World Council of Optometry. Archived from the original on 17 December 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- "Doctor & other health care provider services | Medicare.gov". www.medicare.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
- "About Us". International Orthoptic Association. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- "The Orthoptist". International Orthoptic Association. 2001. Archived from the original (Word Document) on July 31, 2009.
- Georgievski, Z; Koklanis, K; Fenton, A; Koukouras, I (November 2007). "Victorian orthoptists' performance in the photo evaluation of diabetic retinopathy". Clinical & Experimental Ophthalmology. 35 (8): 733–738. doi:10.1111/j.1442-9071.2007.01576.x. PMID 17997777. (subscription required)