Integrated Eyecare Services – How Optometrists and Ophthalmologists Work Together

Better Vision for a Better Life® from the eye specialists at Wolfe Eye Clinic goes right along with knowing that your sight depends on seeing the “right” eye doctor at the “right” time. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are both very important parts of a vision journey and at Wolfe Eye Clinic we can help. The physicians at Wolfe Eye Clinic are proud to partner with the 500+ independent optometrists throughout Iowa. We work collaboratively to provide the best possible care to our mutual patients close to home.

Many patients have visited their local, primary eye care optometrist for many years to receive routine and medical eye exams. They are responsible for your overall eye health and are most familiar with your medical eye history. They screen for medical conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma,  and retina diseases, such as macular degeneration or diabetic eye disease. They also prescribe prescription glasses, contact lenses and eye medications for vision and many medical issues they diagnose. 

If your optometrist detects an advanced medical eye condition that they determine needs a more specialized care or surgical treatment, they will refer you to a trusted ophthalmologist specialist at Wolfe Eye Clinic for evaluation. The relationship is very similar to how your family practice physician may work with a cardiologist or neurologist. While an ophthalmologist may perform a specific surgical procedure or medical treatment, you will likely continue to visit your optometrist for post-surgical monitoring, prescription optical needs and overall monitoring of the health of your eyes.

Having trusted relationships with referring providers in Iowa, is a tradition Wolfe Eye Clinic has been proud of since early in our company history when Otis R. Wolfe and his sons began practicing together in optometry and ophthalmology. Today, cooperative management of care, also known as co-management, between your trusted optometrist and the ophthalmologist they have the confidence to refer you to, allows you access to the best surgical outcomes, while still maintaining the comfort you have with your primary care eye doctor—many times closer to home.   

What is the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?

Optometrists are highly trained healthcare professionals who provide primary eye care ranging from vision testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes. An optometrist receives a doctor of optometry (OD) degree after completing four years of optometry school, preceded by three or more years of college. They are licensed doctors of optometry and, in most cases, perform eye exams and vision tests, prescribe corrective lenses, detect certain eye abnormalities and prescribe medications for certain eye infections and conditions.

Ophthalmologists, also known as eye specialists or eye surgeons, have additional training specific to complex eye disease. As a medical doctor who has completed college and at least eight years of additional medical training, an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine and perform surgery. They often treat more serious eye conditions that may need surgical intervention. Many ophthalmologists at Wolfe Eye Clinic are also involved in scientific research and clinical trials to identify causes and treatments for eye diseases and vision disorders.

Although ophthalmologists are trained to care for all eye problems and conditions, many of them choose to specialize further in a specific area of medical or surgical eye care. This person is called a subspecialist. He or she usually completes one or two years of additional, more in-depth training called a fellowship in an anatomy or disease area such as glaucoma, retina, cornea, pediatrics, plastic surgery or refractive surgery such as LASIK laser vision correction. This added training and knowledge allows the eye specialist to take care of more complex or specific conditions of the eye. At Wolfe Eye Clinic, nearly all our eye specialists have additional training in various conditions or parts of the eye to bring the best care possible to each and every patient.

Referring Eye Care Providers in Iowa

If you are a medical doctor or optometrist and need to make a direct referral, please call (800) 542-7956, option 1. It's that easy! If you would like more information on co-management, our various providers and specialties, or have any additional questions, please reach out to Lisa at