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Who does what: consumers confused about eye care providers, training, M.D. status

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Release date: November 17, 2005
Contact: (202) 835-3323, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Washington, DC — A survey released today by the National Consumers League (NCL), found that many consumers, including those who wear glasses or contact lenses, are uncertain about the differences among various eye care providers, the services they perform, and the training and education they must complete. The survey showed that one-third of respondents (30 percent) incorrectly thought optometrists have earned medical degrees. Similarly, nearly 50 percent thought an optometrist can be board certified, when, in fact, only licensure is required. Despite the confusion about which eye care professionals have medical degrees, consumers have strong opinions on the need for the degree: when it comes to performing surgeries (including laser), injecting /prescribing medications, and emergency care, most respondents indicated that they would prefer their eye-care provider to have a medical degree.

“When it comes to eye care, it is vital for consumers to understand who can provide what kind of services,” said NCL President Linda Golodner. “There are a number of different types of professionals on the eye care team, and unfortunately, many consumers, as seen in our survey, don’t differentiate among them. As in any aspect of health care, consumers must take an active role and familiarize themselves with who it is they’re seeking treatment from.”

The nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, NCL commissioned the survey in order to explore consumers’ understanding of the eye care arena, which is often confusing due to the number of professionals who offer services.

  • Opticians dispense and fit contact lenses and glasses
  • Optometrists examine the eye to diagnose vision problems and abnormalities, and prescribe glasses, contact lenses and some medications
  • Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who deliver total eye care services, treat eye diseases and injuries, and perform eye surgery.
  • These professionals have different education profiles and their practice parameters are determined by varying levels of regulation.

To help consumers better understand eye care, NCL has created new Web resources and tips at its Web site, www.nclnet.org. At the site, consumers can learn about the various members of the eye care team, their training and the services they can provide. It also includes tips and a checklist of questions for patients to ask their eye care providers about treatments and services. NCL has also produced a white paper about the state of eye care in the United States. To learn more, visit www.nclnet.org.

The Web-based survey of 600 adults over the age of 25 was conducted for NCL by TNS jstreet, a Washington-based survey firm. The survey was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant provided by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.