This short article is very necessary to enlighten the public of the confusion of who is who in eye care field. It is not unusual to hear most people, even the enlightened, referring to Ophthalmologist or Optometrist as Optician. The erroneous knowledge is that any eye doctor in the field of eye care is an optician.
In the field of health care, there are three types of health care providers, namely:
- Primary care practitioner
- Secondary care practitioner
- Tertiary care practitioner
Primary care practitioner is one who serves as a patient’s point of entry into the health care systems. Having once entered the health care system, the patient may be found to require the services of other practitioner. The primary care practitioner is the first contact that the patient sees. E.g. a family doctor (General practitioner)
The secondary care practitioner is the one who does not serve as a point of entry for patient but see patients upon referral by primary care practitioner. E.g. an internal medicine practitioner
The tertiary care practitioner is the one who practices in such a narrow areas that his patients are often referred by secondary care practitioner. E.g. a cardiovascular (heart) surgeon, a brain surgeon, plastic surgeon e.t.c.
Who is an Optometrist?
An Optometrist is university graduate who has had six years of Optometry school and one year of internship and had been awarded a degree of Optometric Doctor (O.D). He is a primary eye care provider and he specializes on the art and science of refraction (correcting vision), diagnoses and treatment of eye conditions that do not pose treat to eye integrity. The Optometrist also knows how to fit contact lenses, diagnose eye conditions and has developed an overview of therapy for eye disease. They are not physicians but they are specialist in eye care. The Optometrist does not carry out eye operation.
Who is an Ophthalmologist?
An Ophthalmologist is a specialist who has finished an undergraduate six year course of medical school with one year internship and then proceeded to spend additional three to four years in residency training in ophthalmology. They are Ophthalmic surgeon and they are specialist in eye care.
Who is an Optician?
The Optician is the person who specializes on the art of griding of lenses and fitting of glasses. He is not an eye specialist. Optician makes glasses or deals on optical instrument and he fills prescription for glasses and contact lenses. In advanced country like United States, the Optician has special training and must pass a state board examination before he is permitted to practice. But in Nigeria, they are trained by eye specialist as apprentice. They are technicians.
The Optometrist, Ophthalmologist amd optician are partners in eye care delivery
Actually, The practice of eye care is more standardized in North America and some parts of Europe more than in Africa. America can be regarded as the leader in both Optometry and Ophthalmology field.
In some advanced countries where the professional practice is well delineated, the general practitioner of ophthalmology is usually considered as a secondary care practitioner. The Ophthalmologist cares for patients referred by both the Optometrist and general medical practitioners. However, the ophthalmologist also serves many patients on primary care basis.
In eye care, there are also the tertiary care practitioners. An example is the retinal surgeon who depends on referrals from Optometrist and Ophthalmologist. The retinal surgeon also sees few patients on a primary care basis.