So, you need an eye doctor? It’s important to know what type—optometrist and ophthalmologist—you need for your particular concern. While both are considered “eye doctors,” an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or osteopathic doctor (DO) with specialized experience in surgical and medical procedures, while an optometrist is generally a OD (Doctor of Optometry) who treats common eye diseases and prescribes glasses and contacts. See an ophthalmologist for injuries to the eye, or complicated vision problems. See an optometrist to obtain corrective lenses or undergo vision therapy. Some optometrists also prescribe medications to treat certain eye problems and diseases.

An optometrist has completed four years of optometry school. They can diagnose, treat, and care for common eye diseases as well as prescribe corrective eyewear. Some specialize in certain eye conditions, such as dry eye, and most can detect malformations of the eye, including cataracts and glaucoma. They can also diagnose and treat anterior surface eye conditions such as conjunctivitis, uveitis, and other inflammation of the eye and surface eye diseases.

An ophthalmologist will have completed at least four years of specialized training plus medical school and will usually be licensed by a state regulatory board. If your condition requires eye surgery, you need a fully qualified surgeon. You need an ophthalmologist. So, the first step in your search will be to determine which type of medical professional you require.

Then begin your search by asking your primary care physician for recommendations. Ask family, friends, and coworkers who they’ve seen and recommend. Once you have a list of candidates, visit The American Board of Medical Specialties directory online to find out which doctors in your area are certified in which specialties and then look into their licensing background and any disciplinary information.

That should narrow your search. Now visit each candidate’s website for their credentials and services they offer. Read some online patient reviews. Always expect to see a few complaints, but look for an overall pattern of satisfaction. If you like, you can also confirm their credentials by contacting your local state board of ophthalmology or optometry.

If you have a complicated or unusual eye condition, look for a more experienced ophthalmologist or optometrist, especially one well-versed in your condition. Inquire how many cases like yours they’ve treated and whether they’ve had favorable outcomes. If you’re considering LASIK surgery, for example, look for a provider who performs several a month and has done so for several years.

Now get some firsthand experience. Make an appointment to meet the doctors you’re still considering. Get a feel for their office, the friendliness and knowledge of their staff, and the doctor’s bedside manner. Not everyone hits it off with every doctor. But if you’re treated with respect by the staff and the doctor instills you with confidence, your diligent search can pay off with an eye doctor and practice you can rely on for years to come.