Tips On Choosing an "Eye" Doctor: A Retina Specialist?

Tips On Choosing an "Eye" Doctor: A Retina Specialist?

You suspect you might have macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.  How do you choose a doctor?

A little while back, I wrote about the differences between eye doctors.  Now that you know the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist, how do you choose which is right for you?  When do you need to see a retinal specialist?

Remember that optometrists and ophthalmologists both completed additional degree training after college.  Both also treat many eye diseases and dispense glasses.   In addition, a retina specialist (yours truly!) is an ophthalmologist that completed yet more training to sub-specialize.  I sub-specialize, as a retina specialist, in treating diseases of the retina such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.

You already have an “eye” doctor.

Terrific.  Stay with that eye doctor, be it optometrist or ophthalmologist.  If you have no complaints and your exam is normal, then you are in great shape.  Remember, you have already established a relationship with this guy/gal and you want to use it to your favor.  Your eye doctor should have your best interest at heart, that is, if there is a question about some of your symptoms or a question about your exam, you should be “referred.”

If you were just diagnosed with diabetes and already have an eye doctor, you should feel comfortable staying with your present doc.  If you are not comfortable, ask your doctor to suggest a retina specialist.  Keep in mind; however, most retina specialists do NOT prescribe glasses or take care of other eye problems.

Is My Eye Doctor Qualified?

Yes and no.  Both diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration make the retina “look” different.  So, while the typical optometrist and ophthalmologist may not be able to treat either disease, they should be able to recognize these diseases and refer you to a retina specialist if there is any question.  If the retina doesn’t look normal, most eye doctors will “refer” you.

You Have Symptoms and Are Worried

You have symptoms of blurry vision, have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, have distortion or some other symptom.  Make sure you get examined………… any eye doctor!  If a referral is necessary, see a retina specialist.

Everything you experience is not necessarily diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration.

When Do I Need to See a Retina Specialist?

Depending upon your level of comfort, if you have no signs of either disease, you might stay with your present eye doctor.  If you are not confident with this person, then ask for a “referral.”

If your doctor diagnosis you with either macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, I would suggest referral to a specialist.  You will need to see one at some point any way.  I always advocate the earlier the better.

If you or your doctor feel that you may benefit from treatment, then seek the help of a retina specialist.

Do I Need a “Referral?”

It depends upon your insurance.  Most insurance does not require an eye doctor to refer to another.  You may need a referral from your PCP (primary care provider).  If your insurance does not require a referral, call a retina specialist and make an appointment.  HINT:  Tell the receptionist that you have diabetes or are suspected of having macular degeneration – this should get you in easier.

How Do I Find a Doctor?

Ask your present eye doctor and then check to make sure that the doctor suggested is in your network.  Remember the difference between medical insurance and vision insurance.

If you do not have a doctor, check with your medical insurance for a list of retina specialists.

Group Practice

There are two types of group practices with regard to retina specialists; a single-specialty group of retina doctors, and, a multi-specialty group of sub-specialist eye doctors, including retina.

I would recommend a multi-specialty eye practice that offers a retina specialist.  It is the “one stop shopping” approach, but more importantly, there won’t be hesitation to referring you to the appropriate specialist as you won’t be leaving the practice.

In the end, the best way to preserve your excellent vision and function is to get examined…………by any eye doctor.


Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist
Fairfax, Virginia

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  • Dodge Perry
    Posted at 08:56h, 03 December Reply

    I really really like this article. Well done.

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  • Flower Mound Optometrists
    Posted at 12:34h, 07 March Reply

    Good Advice… My wif’e’s step mother has macular degeneration and because of the care she has received from her doctor she has held out very well over the years. Thanks.

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  • Tara
    Posted at 14:37h, 22 October Reply

    Thank you so much for this – my mother too suffers from MD but has a great doctor who helps her!

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  • Cindy
    Posted at 18:39h, 22 July Reply

    My son is 16 years old and was diagnosed with MODY 3 when he was 9 years old. His last A1C was 8 but it’s mostly low 7’s. I take him to see an Optomologist every year and never had any issues until April. Although he said the exam was normal, he didn’t have the proper medical equipment to see everything behind his eye so he referred him to a retina specialist. At the first appointment, she lasered both of my sons eyes. When we took him back for his follow up appointment with the retina specialist, she said he had another bleed that she wanted to laser but I said no, I rather get a second opinion. My question is, can I use MY Optomologist as a second opinion or should I find another retina specialist? Thanks so much!

    • Randall Wong, M.D.
      Posted at 11:10h, 23 September Reply

      I would suggest another retina specialist – sorry for the delay – I think I answered via email?


  • easton
    Posted at 13:15h, 22 April Reply

    I like the tip that you gave to choose an eye doctor who is within your insurance network. My wife and I have been talking about finding a doctor to help her get new glasses, and it would be important for us to know that we could find one who we would be able to afford because of our insurance. If we choose to find a new eye doctor, I will be sure to look for one who is covered by our insurance.

    • Randall Wong, M.D.
      Posted at 18:51h, 20 August Reply

      Sounds like a great plan. r

  • kyle kidd
    Posted at 19:19h, 10 February Reply

    I hadn’t realized that a doctor needs to be qualified to treat your specific condition. My wife is having a hard time seeing, and wants to get professional help to restore her vision. I want to be helpful by referring her to the best doctor possible, so I will be sure to check their qualifications before referring her to them.

    • Randall Wong, M.D.
      Posted at 03:36h, 01 March Reply

      All the best. Thanks for reading.


  • Victoria Addington
    Posted at 22:38h, 19 February Reply

    Thanks for the tips in choosing an eye doctor. I’ve noticed that for months that I’ve been binge-watching my favorite television series, my eyesight is getting poorer. With that, I’m thinking of going to an eye care center for a check-up and for possible treatment. I like what you said about knowing if my eye doctor is qualified to inspect the problems concerning my blurry vision. I will then take note of that once I start looking for one.

    • Randall Wong, M.D.
      Posted at 03:27h, 01 March Reply

      All the best. Thanks for reading and following.


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