This category covers establishments of licensed practitioners having the degree of O.D. (Doctor of Optometry) and engaged in the practice of optometry. Establishments operating as clinics of optometrists also are included in this industry.
Offices of Optometrists
According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), there were nearly 30,000 full-time equivalent practicing doctors of optometry in the United States during the late 1990s. These optometrists served in 7,084 communities across the country, and in more than 4,300 of those communities were the only primary eye-care providers. Doctors of optometry examine, diagnose, and treat a variety of diseases and disorders of the vision system, the eye, and associated structures. Services rendered by optometrists include the prescription of glasses and contact lenses, rehabilitation of the visually impaired, and the diagnosis and treatment of ocular disease.
Figures supplied by the American Optometric Association indicated that approximately $17.5 billion was spent in 1995 on vision care and prescription eyewear. That figure did not include costs for eye surgery or treatment for eye injuries and disease. ASCO statistics showed that in 1995 some 86 million Americans had their eyes examined and more than half of all Americans wore either glasses or contact lenses.
According to industry statistics, there were an estimated 19,000 offices and clinics of optometry in the mid-2000s, employing 95,323 people. Optometrists reported revenues of $5.27 billion in 2005, with optometrists in California posting $879.9 million of the industry total.
Sixty-eight percent of optometrists worked out of their own clinics or offices and were self-employed. Unlike ophthalmologists, they are not medical doctors. Optometrists examine the eyes to evaluate eye health and visual acuity and to diagnose eye diseases and eye conditions. Optometrists are not qualified to perform eye surgery, but they can prescribe corrective treatment: glasses, contact lenses, vision therapy, and low-vision aids. As of June 1996, 48 states had passed legislation that authorized optometrists to use drugs to treat diseases of the eye, allowing them to compete with ophthalmologists who have traditionally performed this service. Industry experts predicted that all doctors of optometry (ODs) would soon be given this right. Optometrists also are lobbying for the right to perform photorefractive keratectomies. Most states require that a licensed doctor perform the surgery, but Idaho allows optometrists to do the procedure.
Some optometrists held more than one job or worked out of more than one office or clinic. Commercial vision-care centers serve as another option for optometrists establishing their practices. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, optometrists were increasingly buying franchises from large retail optical chains and operating them as independent businesses. Younger optometrists also tended to join partners or form group practices. The handbook noted that working optometrists also earned salaries as employees of health maintenance organizations (HMOs), health centers and eye clinics, public and private health agencies, insurance companies, or schools of optometry. The majority of optometric practitioners worked full time.
Like others in the health care profession, some optometrists worked in a general practice, while others chose to specialize. Some areas of specialty in the field of optometry include geriatrics, contact lenses, low-vision services, occupational vision, pediatrics, sports vision, and vision therapy. Still other doctors of optometry chose to devote their careers to teaching or scientific research.
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