• Glossary of Terms

  • Profession of Medicine

    The art and science of maintaining health; recognizing, understanding, preventing, diagnosing, alleviating, managing, and treating disease, injury, disorder, and deformity in all their relations that affect the human body in general, including surgery.

    Medical Management and Treatment

    The provision of diagnostic and therapeutic services by a doctor of medicine or osteopathy to a person with a disease, injury, disorder, or deformity.


    The branch of medicine that treats diseases, injuries, deformities, and cosmetic appearance by any method of surgical treatment (see below) to repair, remove, disrupt, coagulate, or otherwise physically alter biological tissue for the intended treatment of disease, injury, deformity, or cosmetic problems.

    Surgical Treatment

    The application of surgery performed after the appropriate medical evaluation and diagnostic tests have determined its need. Surgery of the eye and ocular adnexa includes a wide range of treatment methods that can, in part, be considered under general categories. These categories include the following:


    Surgical procedures used for altering the shape of the cornea to correct corneal diseases or errors of refraction. These include, but are not limited to, lamellar and penetrating keratoplasty, DSEK), conductive keratoplasty, LASIK, LASEK, photorefractive keratectomy, and intrastromal corneal implants (plastics and hydrogels).


    The use of very low temperatures; cryotherapy or cryoinstrumentation.


    Incision or excision of tissues.


    Delivery of pharmaceutical agents, via intravascular, subdermal, intradermal, intralesional, intramuscular, intracameral, peribulbar, retrobulbar, subtenon, juxtascleral, subcutaneous, subconjunctival, or intravitreal routes.


    Laser surgery, including photocoagulation, photodisruption, photoablation with short pulsed lasers (i.e., excimer and neodymium:YAG lasers), and incision or excision using CO2 lasers and other laser techniques.

    Placement of implantable devices:

    Placement of intraocular lenses, glaucoma filtering devices, corneal refractive devices, intraocular drug delivery devices, scleral buckles, silicone or pyrex tubes for epiphora, and other devices.


    The use of ionizing radiation for therapeutic purposes.


    The use of electrical, direct or indirect thermal.


    Phacoemulsification of cataract.

    Doctor of Medicine

    A person who has received the degree of doctor of medicine (M.D.) following successful completion of a prescribed course of study in medicine and surgery at an accredited school of medicine.

    Doctor of Osteopathy

    A person who has received the degree of doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) following completion of a prescribed course of study in osteopathy at an accredited school of osteopathy.


    A person who has received the degree of doctor of medicine (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) following completion of a prescribed course of study in medicine and surgery at an accredited school of medicine or osteopathy

    Note: The definition of physician in federal law is sometimes used to include other health professions "for the purposes of reimbursement." This definition does not change the basic, generally accepted definitions that are given here.


    A physician (doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy) who specializes in the refractive, medical, and surgical care of the eyes and visual system and in the prevention of eye disease and injury. The ophthalmologist has completed four or more years of college premedical education; four or more years of medical school; and four or more years of residency, including at least three years of residency in ophthalmology. The ophthalmologist is a specialist who is qualified by lengthy medical education, training, and experience to diagnose, treat, and manage all eye and visual system problems and is licensed by a state regulatory board to practice medicine and surgery. The ophthalmologist is the medically trained specialist who can deliver total eye care: primary, secondary, and tertiary care services (i.e., vision services, spectacle and contact lens prescriptions, eye examinations, medical eye care, and surgical eye care), diagnose general diseases of the body, and treat ocular manifestations of systemic diseases.


    A health service provider who is involved primarily with refractive problems. Optometrists are specifically educated and trained by an accredited optometry college in a four-year course, but they do not attend medical school. They are state licensed to examine the eyes, determine the presence of refractive problems, correct refractive problems with glasses or contact lenses, and to detect and manage limited ophthalmic medical eye disease.


    A professional who makes, verifies, delivers, and fits lenses, frames, and other specially fabricated optical devices and/or contact lenses according to prescription for the intended wearer. The optician's functions include prescription analysis and interpretation; determination of the lens forms best suited to the wearer's needs; preparation and delivery of work orders for the grinding of lenses and the fabrication of eye wear; verification of the finished optical products; and adjustment, replacement, repair, and reproduction of previously prepared lenses, frames, and other specially fabricated optical devices.


    A professional who designs, makes, and fits artificial eyes.

    Comprehensive, or Total, Eye Care

    Refractive, medical, and surgical eye services provided by an ophthalmologist. Refractive and optical services are included as an integral part of comprehensive, or total, eye care.


    Determination of the optical state of the eye as the basis for prescribing glasses and contact lenses.

    Vision Services

    Refractive and optical services delivered by ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. These services include the supplying, dispensing, and fitting of glasses and contact lenses, if required, and, except for opticians, also include an examination of the eye for corrective lenses.

    Vision Care

    A term commonly used to describe vision services when provided as part of insurance and other third-party payment programs that generally can be equated with refraction plus dispensing of glasses and contact lenses.

    Approved by: Board of Directors, June 1983

    Revised and Approved by: Board of Directors, June 1990

    Revised and Approved by: Board of Trustees, June 1993

    Revised and Approved by: Board of Trustees, February 1998

    Revised and Approved by: Board of Trustees, November 2003

    Revised and Approved by: Board of Trustees, October 2005

    Revised and Approved by: Board of Trustees, August 2009

    ©2009 American Academy of Ophthalmology®
    P.O. Box 7424 / San Francisco, CA 94120 / 415.561.8500