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The following article was published in Your Health Magazine. Our mission is to empower people to live healthier.
Donald C. Bartnick, CMPE, CEO
How To Choose Your Ophthalmologist
Maryland Eye Associates
. http://marylandeyeassociates.com

How To Choose Your Ophthalmologist

When preparing to author an article to address this topic, I checked the internet to see what kind of advice the “Net” had to offer. It was interesting to see that some sites suggested checking your health plan first, others said to “ask a nurse”, some suggest “interviewing” three doctors in some type of “beauty contest,” still others offer assistance with the selection based on some ratings website. Local magazines suggest that a person select a doctor based on some type of popularity contest sponsored by the magazine. Some advise that a person should seek the advice of an optometrist without knowing that there could be a financial “co-management” relationship between the optometrist and the recommended ophthalmologist. I submit that none of these methods will result in a good decision. Selecting an ophthalmologist is not as easy as it may seem. Name recognition and popularity are not the only factors one should consider.

What is an ophthalmologist? An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor and surgeon (MD or DO). In general, he or she has completed four years of college, four years of medical school and four years of post-graduate residency training, three of which are in the specialty of ophthalmology. The ophthalmologist must be licensed in the state. He or she is licensed as a medical doctor to perform eye examinations and prescribe lenses or other corrective treatments. He or she is authorized to prescribe and/or dispense medicine or drugs for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. He or she is a surgeon trained to perform invasive ocular surgery to preserve and restore vision. An ophthalmologist can provide complete eye examinations, laser vision correction, medical and surgical treatment of cataracts, diabetic eye complications, glaucoma, macular degeneration, ocular plastic surgery and related vision care services. The ophthalmologist is the specialist medical doctor to whom the optometrist will refer patients with problems requiring treatment beyond the optometrists' licensure limitations. Additionally, there are several “sub-specialty” areas in which an ophthalmologist may receive additional training and to whom general ophthalmologists might make a referral.

An ophthalmologist becomes Board Eligible when he or she successfully completes the educational requirements at an approved institution. The board eligible physician achieves Board Certification when he or she passes a written and oral multiple-day test, over two years, and demonstrates to a panel of experienced, board certified ophthalmology experts that he or she exhibits the knowledge and clinical expertise to warrant becoming a Board Certified Ophthalmologist.

Choosing an ophthalmologist should follow a basic paradigm that one can use in choosing any doctor, but with some additional considerations unique to this specialty.

The major factors to be considered in selecting an ophthalmologist are

Education and credentials

Volume and experience

Approach to patient care

Office etiquette and convenience

Payment issues/health insurance participation

I have chosen to list them in the order of importance to finding the “right” ophthalmologist.

It is essential that the doctor have the appropriate and necessary education and residency training in ophthalmology. This can easily be checked by performing a query on the American Academy of Ophthalmology website (www.aao.org) or the ophthalmologist's website.

Next, one should consider the experience of the ophthalmologist. Information about how long they have been in practice and the volumes of procedures they have performed is useful in evaluating the doctor's ability to recognize an ophthalmic issue and work to resolve it. Determining this information is usually more difficult and may require contacting the doctors' offices. Depending on your particular ocular problem, it may be important to see if the ophthalmologist is sub-specialty trained so they may concentrate their practice in one highly specific area (for example glaucoma).

Determining the ophthalmologist's approach to patient care may be even more difficult but is possible. Read the advertisements or articles written by the ophthalmologist, check the ophthalmologist's website, call the ophthalmologist's office, and speak with others who receive care from this doctor to obtain information. Does the doctor use the best technology? Does the doctor emphasize practice characteristics that are important for you? Is the doctor conservative or aggressive in treatment philosophy? If surgery is necessary, at what facilities does the ophthalmologist have privileges? Does the ophthalmologist work only in a hospital or do they perform surgery in an ambulatory surgery center? Is the practice “patient-centered” or an assembly-line? Does the ophthalmologist practice in a group or solo practice? Does this have implications for availability or scope of services? What can you learn from the experiences of other patients, or previous patients of this ophthalmologist? Does the ophthalmologist personally provide all preoperative and post operative care or do they just perform the surgical procedure?

When you call the ophthalmologist's office, is the receptionist helpful and responsive? If your problem is urgent, are you able to secure an appointment soon? Is the office convenient? Is there ample parking? When you visit the office, is it confused or organized; professional or too casual? Are you treated with respect by all staff? Do the staff and doctor pay attention to your issues? Do you and the ophthalmologist communicate well? At the conclusion of your visit, did the doctor address the problem that brought you to the office?

Finally, is the ophthalmologist in-network with your insurance carrier? Is the care you are seeking “routine” or “medical”? Because an ophthalmologist is a specialist medical doctor, does your insurance require you to obtain a referral to see an ophthalmologist? If surgery is necessary, does the facility to which the ophthalmologist refers participate with your insurance?

These are just some of the considerations in selecting the “right” ophthalmologist. Included are criteria based on competence, style, and patient preferences. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

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