By Eyecare NG

Types of eye care practitioners   |   Factors to consider 

Choosing an eye care provider is one of the most important eye care decisions you will make, especially if you want to use privately owned eye clinics and hospitals. In the public or government-owned hospitals, you may also have the opportunity to decide on the eye provider you want to consult.

Types of eye care practitioner

In Nigeria, there are three types of eye care practitioners namely:

  • Optometrists
  • Ophthalmologists
  • Opticians

Optometrists, also known as Doctors of Optometry are primary eye care practitioners. They provide comprehensive eye and vision care which includes eye examination, dispensing of lenses and other optical devices, diagnosis and management of eye diseases, and rehabilitation of vision disorders.  In Nigeria, optometrists are licensed to examine, diagnose and manage all eye conditions except those that require surgeries.  Some optometrists provide general eye care services while others provide specialized services in corneal care and contact lenses, orthoptics and vision therapy, low vision and rehabilitation and more.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who have undergone residency training in ophthalmology. They are secondary eye care professionals. They perform eye examination, diagnose and treat all eye diseases and carry out eye surgeries. They also diagnose and recommend glasses for the correction of refractive errors. Some ophthalmologists provide general ophthalmological services while others go ahead to specialise in many sub-areas of ophthalmology such as glaucoma, retina, paediatric ophthalmology, ocular oncology and more.

Opticians also known as ‘Dispensing Opticians’ are technicians that specialize in fitting corrective eyewear using prescriptions provided by an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist. Opticians are not licenced to perform eye examination or diagnose vision problems.

Factors to consider while choosing an eye care provider

It is important to choose your eye care provider carefully because you will be entrusting the care of your and vision to him/her.  Hence, you need to be sure that the person is qualified and competent enough to take care of your eyes.

Many factors can influence the choice of an eye care provider and these may vary from one patient to another.

Some of the factors you may want to consider before you choose your eye care provider include:

Your eye condition

While any good eye care provider will refer you the appropriate practitioner if your eye condition is beyond what he/she is qualified and able to handle, your eye condition can help you decide on who to consult.

  • If you need primary eye care services such eye examination, treatment for acute infections, lenses and optical devices, you should consult an optometrist.
  • If you have a chronic eye disease, one that requires surgery or other advanced care, you will need to see an ophthalmologist.
  • If your eyes have been examined by an optometrist or ophthalmologist and you were given your lens prescription for your glasses, you should get your glassess fitted by an optician.

Professional affiliation of the eye care provider

There are different professional organisations and affiliations for eye care practitioners. Credible professional organizations usually insist on continuing education for members. Therefore, practitioners who are active members of these organizations are more likely to be up to date in training and development on eye care and optical issues.

Available services

Your choice of an eye care provider can also be based on the services, equipment and products available in the eye care centre. It is usually more convenient to use an eye care centre where all standard eye care needs will be met. Moving from one facility to another for basic eye care services such as standard eye examination and optical frame selection may not be convenient for you.

A consideration of services available in an eye care centre becomes particularly important if you suspect you have an eye condition that may require supplemental or advanced testing. Therefore, before booking an appointment, you should call the eye care centre you are considering visiting ahead of time to enquire about the services they offer and their arrangement for advanced care (if they do not offer these services).

Health Insurance

Having health insurance, greatly affects your choice of an eye care provider particularly if you want to use your insurance and not pay out of your pocket.

If you have health insurance or are enrolled in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), you need to find out whether the eye care provider you are considering is a registered provider for National Health Insurance Scheme or has an agreement with your Health Maintenance Organisation (HMO).

Cost of eye care services

The cost of eye care services vary from one eye care centre to another. Services you may need to pay for include consultation, tests and procedures, lenses, medications and more.  You need to factor this when choosing your eye care provider especially if you are working with a low budget.

Recommendations from family, friends and colleagues

Reviews and recommendations from friends, family members and colleagues can also help you in deciding on an eye care provider.  They usually give you an insight into what to expect from an eye care provider. Positive reviews from people who have received care from a particular eye care provider may indicate good eye care delivery by that provider while negative reviews may indicate unsatisfactory eye care delivery by the provider.

Waiting time

If you are pressed for time, having to wait long hours to see an eye care provider may not be feasible. This can make you procrastinate or delay seeking eye care. So, you should find out whether the eye care provider you are considering is always available or whether he or she has specific working days and hours.  You should also find out if the eye care centre is a very busy one and if there is provision for booking or scheduling appointments ahead time. Your findings can guide you in choosing an eye care provider.

Eye care provider’s interpersonal relationship, communication skills and professionalism

The eye care provider’s communication skills and professionalism are other factors you may want to consider. If this is important to you, you find out whether the practitioner communicates his findings properly to patients. Does he interact with patients in a professional manner?  How do people feel during and after eye examination? Are the other staff in the centre courteous and welcoming?

Location and accessibility of the eye care facility

The location of an eye care provider and how accessible his/her facility may either encourage or discourage you from utilizing eye care services. Therefore, it is important to put this into consideration when choosing an eye care provider. Other factors like availability of parking space, the appearance of the clinic and overall ambience of the eye care facility are things you may want to consider.