What is the difference between opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists?

Optometrists often work closely with other eye care professionals such as ophtalmologists and opticians to deliver eyecare

In general terms, ophthalmology involves intensive medical diagnosis and management by drugs and/or surgeries of ocular diseases. Opticians are focused on offering the best fitting of furniture, lenses and filters to customize them at the physiological parameters / characteristics of the patients. Modern optometry involves intensive assessment, diagnosis, training and management of refractive errors and visual dysfunctions. However, being a regulated profession, an optometrist’s scope of practice may differ depending on the location, and this might lead to errors.

For example, in the UK, even if optometry became a regulated profession 60 years ago, professionals complain about the continued abrogation of the term optometry. Apparently, “optician” is often used to encompass everything that has to do with ocular health. A good example of it is the General Optical Council, which is the regulator for two professions like dispensing opticians and optometrists, being only the last one a protected title.

But let’s get to the point. These are roughly, the differences between opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists:

  • Opticians: they are specialized in producing and fitting ophthalmic lenses, spectacles, contact lenses and ocular prosthetics. The prescription of these lenses should be done by a regulated professional such as an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.
  • Ophthalmologists: they are doctors that deal with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eyeball and orbit. They provide comprehensive eye care, including medical and surgical care.
  • Optometrists: they are the primary healthcare practitioners of the visual system who provide comprehensive eye and vision care, including detection/diagnosis and rehabilitation of conditions or dysfunctions of the visual system.

That said, for any visual issue related to vision such as eye tracking, eye focusing, eye teaming, etc. we can choose an optometrist for vision care. They will provide us a diagnosis, but also the right therapy to improve our vision function problems. Vision can be often improved via lenses, but not always. Optometrists can provide us the right training for improving visual dysfunctions, they can prescribe the lenses that we can later obtain at an optician, or they can rather refer us out to an ophthalmologist when surgical care of the eye is needed.