What is an Optometrist?

Optometrists are independent, primary health care providers who examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures as well as diagnose related systemic conditions.

Optometrists are an integral part of the health care team. As eye care practitioners, they are skilled in the co-management of eye health and vision care. They examine the structures of the eye to detect and diagnose:

  • Vision conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia
  • Binocular vision conditions such as convergence insufficiency, which can cause eye discomfort and difficulty reading
  • Eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts and retinal disorders
  • Systemic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes

Optometrists prescribe and/or provide eyeglasses, contact lenses, low vision aids and vision therapy. They prescribe medications to treat eye diseases and perform certain surgical procedures. Optometrists also do testing to determine the patient’s ability to focus and coordinate the eye, judge depth perception, and see colors accurately.

Optometrists work in private practices, multidisciplinary medical practices, hospitals, teaching institutions, research positions, community health centers and the ophthalmic industry. Optometrists can also build successful careers in the military, public health or government service.

How Do Optometrists Compare To The Other Medical Professionals?

Optometrists, physicians, and dentists are subject to the same types of regulation and oversight to assure quality care. Optometric education closely parallels that of other independent doctoral level practitioners like dentists, podiatrists and physicians. Optometry schools are accredited by the same organizations that accredit other health care schools.

Optometrists must pass National Board Examinations and testing by the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners to get a license to practice in Kentucky. Each year, doctors of optometry are required to submit proof of attendance of at least 15 hours of continuing education to get their license renewed.

Optometrists are reimbursed as health care providers by government programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Worker’s Compensation where they provide the same primary eye care services as physicians. They also are qualified to render opinions on vision for driver’s licensing, legal blindness, etc. Optometrists serve on Health Department Boards across the state.

Many private insurance plans and HMOs use optometrists to provide not only vision care (routine exams and glasses) but also to take care of eye health problems like eye infections and glaucoma.

Optometrists are subject to Quality Assurance mechanisms and peer review in both government and private health care programs.

Optometrists are subject to all the same requirements as physicians, dentists, and other independently practicing doctors regarding fee disclosures, records release, etc., by the Kentucky Health Care Policy Board.

Doctors of optometry will be held to the same standards of care as physicians who specialize in eye care under the Practice Parameters for certain eye care conditions adopted by the Kentucky Health Care Policy Board. Doctors of optometry carry malpractice insurance, as do other health care professionals.