Each year there are more than 17.2 million optometry visits and another 55.8 million ophthalmology visits. Eye exams are critical to preventing vision problems and updating your eyeglasses prescription, but there is a secondary reason for visiting an eye doctor: They give doctors insight into your overall health and can even save your life. 

A routine eye exam can help detect serious health problems from high blood pressure and diabetes to brain tumors. That makes selecting an eye doctor just as important as picking a primary care or specialty practitioner. 

How do you know what type of eye doctor you need? Are there criteria to follow for picking a good eye doctor? This article will answer these questions and help you find the right kind of eye doctor for you to work with for the long-term health of your eyes.

What Type of Eye Doctor Do I Need?

There are two types of eye doctors: optometrists and ophthalmologists. What’s the difference and which one do you need?

  • Optometrists are the non-surgical eye doctors you need for services such as your annual eye exam or medication for dry eyes.
  • Ophthalmologists can treat eye diseases but also perform surgeries to correct problems.

Generally, you’ll probably start with selecting an optometrist. An optometrist is the doctor that gives you your annual eye exam and writes the prescription for your contacts or eyeglasses. Your optometrist can treat some common ailments of the eye like dry eye, glaucoma, cataracts, color blindness, and more. 

If there is a problem with your eyes, you may need to visit an ophthalmologist instead. These doctors treat and can even perform surgery to help with a wide variety of eye conditions.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists also differ from an optician. An optician, which you may see when you pick out the frames for your new glasses, is not a medical doctor. An optician can dispense prescription contact lenses and glasses but can’t do the eye exam or any eye surgeries.

How Do I Pick an Eye Doctor?

 After you determine which type of eye doctor you require, consider the following criteria to choose the right provider. Do some research to find out details about the eye doctors nearby, including:

  • The location and hours of operation of the practice
  • The doctor’s qualifications and experience
  • The services offered by the practice
  • The satisfaction levels of the doctor’s patients

Convenient Location and Availability

Figure out how close the practice is to your home or office. What are the hours offered? Are there evening or weekend appointment times that you can access for either you or your family? Are there emergency spots available and how long does it take to get an appointment? If you have insurance, is the practice covered by your payer? These questions can help you determine if this provider is going to be a good fit for your way of life.

The Eye Doctor’s Qualifications

Look for an eye doctor with the proper qualifications to treat your eyes or any problems you may be having with them. For example, you’ll want your optometrist to have a four-year postgraduate degree after college as well as clinical training as a resident for one to two years after the initial eight years of study is over.

The training to be an ophthalmologist is even more intense, with a full medical degree, plus an ophthalmology residency that takes another four to seven years. 

In both cases, look for board certification as a gold standard that the doctor is top-notch. 

The Eye Doctor’s Experience

Remember that this is the practice of medicine; the more experience, the more the doctor has “practiced” on patients to provide care. The most highly skilled doctors can pick up on eye diseases because they’ve seen the symptoms before. It can be reassuring to know that your doctor has experience in your particular problem.

Available Services at the Practice

If the practice offers a broad range of services, you have the option to receive treatment for a variety of issues. It also may allow your entire family to use the same doctor. Sometimes eye care providers offer fewer services so that their doctors can provide more specialized care for certain conditions and treatments. Whether it’s the right fit for you all depends on what services you need the most.

Patient Levels of Satisfaction

Always check the customer ratings of the doctor you’re considering. News travels quickly in the age of the internet, but you can use that to your advantage. Start by asking your family and friends which doctors they’ve liked in the past. 

You can also visit the websites of these practices as well as various consumer rating sites to find out details about your doctor. Some of the things to look for include:

  • Did the doctor see patients quickly?
  • Was the office clean and the receptionist friendly?
  • Was the eye exam thorough?
  • Did the doctor take the time to explain everything and answer questions?
  • Did the reviewer feel comfortable?
  • If the doctor detected issues, did they address them well?

Consumer rating sites are very popular to check to see what other people are saying about the practice. Some of the best healthcare websites that review all kinds of doctors include:

  • Healthgrades
  • Ratemds
  • Wellness
  • ZocDoc 

Of course, you can also read reviews on sites like Facebook or Google. These websites can help you figure out which practices are making waves with consumers and which practices are falling behind. You can—and should—use these sites to help select the best eye care doctor for you and your family.

Picking the right doctor can be tricky. That’s why state-of-the art South Florida Eyecare Centers is a top pick for patients in the region to make sure their eyes are treated well for a lifetime of health. Talk with our team today to experience the benefits of consistent and high-quality eye care.