Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine that diagnoses, treats, and helps prevent diseases and disorders of the eye. An ophthalmologist provides a broad range of services, from correcting vision with glasses or contacts, to treating eye conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, as well as performing eye surgeries, including cataract, refractive or vision correction, strabismus, and lid and brow lifts.
An Ophthalmologist’s Training and Credentials
An ophthalmologist begins his or her training with four years of medical school. The next step is a minimum of four years as a resident. Once the residency is completed, an ophthalmologist may continue with an extra year or more of specialized training in a fellowship program. These “subspecialties” concentrate on one aspect of eye care, such as glaucoma, cornea, neuro-ophthalmology, pathology, pediatric ophthalmology, or ophthalmic plastic surgery.
Once a physician has completed these aspects of education, they may apply to be a certified member of the American Board of Ophthalmology, the American Osteopathic Colleges of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. Board membership requires frequent recertification and to accomplish that, the physician must complete annual coursework requirements and take a recertification test.
How to Choose the Right Ophthalmologist
To find the right fit between you and your ophthalmologist, you’ll want to identify possibilities, research credentials, and then assess the doctor’s capabilities for partnering with you.
- Find other patients who are satisfied with their ophthalmologists. Ask them for the names of their doctors.
- Check with your insurance company for a list of ophthalmologists who work with your insurance.
- Compare these lists to find names in common with your needs. You’ll want to spend time learning more about them by researching their credentials, specialties and capabilities or outcomes history.
Research an Ophthalmologist’s Credentials
Using the list of names you have collected, make sure the Ophthalmologist you are interested in has:
- A Medical Degree from an accredited medical school and residency program.
- Completion of additional, extensive training in ophthalmology.
- Board certification from the board that makes sense for your needs. A master list of medical boards can be found through the American Board of Medical Specialties.
- Licensure from the state in which you will seek care. The Federation of State Medical Boards provides a master list of licensing bodies.
- A review of possible disciplinary actions. This information can be difficult to find, but as public record, should be found by inputting the doctor’s name and location into a search engine.
Assess an Ophthalmologist’s Capabilities
Once you have vetted your list based on the criteria above, you’ll want to ask the following questions to determine which doctors are worth meeting:
- Is this doctor on the list of providers who work with my insurance?
- Does this doctor have admitting privileges at my choice of hospitals or does the practice include an ambulatory surgical center?
- Is this doctor’s location convenient for me? What are the office hours? Is the office nearby, located on a bus route or easy to access if I use a wheelchair?
- What happens if I call this doctor in an emergency? How quickly will I get a return call?
- If the doctor is not available, is there someone else who can help me when I make a phone call or need an appointment?
If you are satisfied with the answers, you’ll need to make an appointment, where you’ll also want to consider these questions:
- Does the doctor see you within a fair amount of time from your appointment time?
- Does the doctor listen to your questions and not interrupt you?
- Is the doctor respectful?
- Does the doctor explain the meaning of difficult terms and otherwise communicate effectively with you?
- Does the doctor spend enough time with you?
- Are you comfortable with this doctor?
- Finding the right ophthalmologist may seem like a long, involved process, however, knowing that this doctor may partner with you for the rest of your lifetime makes it worth your time and effort.