Who Does What:

Confusion About Eye Care Providers, Training, M.D. Status

Survey Highlights Need for Education; Consumer Group Offers Tips, White Paper

A survey commissioned by the National Consumers League finds that when it comes to eye care, many consumers – in Oklahoma and across the United States — are uncertain about the differences among various eye care providers, the services they perform, and the training and education they must complete. Despite the confusion about eye care
professionals, consumers have strong opinions on the need for a medical degree: when it comes to performing surgeries (including laser), injecting/prescribing medications, and emergency care, most respondents indicated that they would prefer their eye care provider to have a medical degree.

The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, commissioned the survey in order to explore consumers’ understanding of eye care providers. Survey highlights include:

  • Many consumers, including those who wear glasses or contact lenses, are uncertain about the differences among various eye care providers, the services they perform, and the training and education they must complete.
  • Fully one-third of respondents incorrectly thought optometrists are medical doctors.
  • When asked hypothetically about the type of eye care provider a respondent would see if they suffered from advance eye conditions, respondents showed an overwhelming preference to visit an ophthalmologist for their eye care.

The survey also included specific findings in Oklahoma, the only state that allows optometrists to perform certain laser and scalpel surgery:

  • In Oklahoma alone, 99 percent of consumers surveyed thought they should be told whether their eye care provider is a trained and licensed medical doctor before receiving eye care treatment.
  • Oklahoma consumers showed a strong preference for ophthalmologists when asked whom they prefer to see for advanced eye conditions.
  • Oklahomans strongly agreed (94%) that patients should have the right to insist that their eye surgery be performed by a trained and licensed medical doctor.

“When it comes to eye care, it is vital for consumers to understand who can provide what kind of services and to have a clear understanding of the education and training of the eye care professional,” said NCL President Linda Golodner. “There are a number of different types of professionals on the eye care team, and unfortunately, many consumers, as seen in our survey, don’t differentiate among them. As in any aspect of health care, consumers must take an active role and familiarize themselves with those from whom they are
seeking treatment.”

The eye care arena is often confusing to consumers due to the number of professionals who offer services.

  • Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in all aspects of eye care. They provide primary eye care services (eye exams and prescribing glasses and contacts) and diagnose and treat eye disease and injuries, as well as perform eye surgery. Ophthalmologists must complete four years of medical school, a one-year internship, and three years of residency.
  • Optometrists provide most routine, primary vision care. They examine the eye to diagnose vision problems and diseases. They prescribe contact lenses and glasses, and prescribe and administer some medications. Optometrists earn a Doctor of Optometry after four years of optometry school.
  • Opticians dispense and fit contact lenses and glasses. Opticians have earned either an associate opticianry degree or apprenticed for two years.

To help consumers better understand eye care, NCL has created new Web resources and tips at its Web site, http://www.nclnet.org. At the site, consumers can learn about the various members of the eye care team, their training and the services they can provide. It also includes tips and a checklist of questions for patients to ask their eye care providers about treatments and services. NCL has also produced a white paper about the state of eye care in the United States. To learn more, visit http://www.nclnet.org.

The Web-based survey of 600 adults over the age of 25 was conducted for NCL by TNS J Street, a Washington-based survey firm. A total of 600 respondents from the NFO Chronic Ailment Panel (CAP) participated in a 20-minute online survey from July 22-27, 2005. Of the 600 respondents, 500 proportionally represented 49 states, and 100 were sampled from Oklahoma. The survey was conducted at a 5 percent risk level, or 95 percent level of confidence. The survey was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant provided by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.

For more information, visit http://www.nclnet.org.

From PR Newswire

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