The medical specialist who concentrates in the making and fitting of lenses to correct various vision problems that an individual may encounter is termed an optometrist. As well as performing eye examinations, an optometrist prescribes the corrective lens that correlates for the identified vision concern. In comparison, a dispensing optician focuses upon the filling of these prescriptions by making and/or fitting the corrective lenses or spectacles/glasses.

The role of a dispensing optician is to interpret the written prescription and ascertain the specifications of the lenses required. Their areas of expertise allow them to inform consumers of the most suitable frame, lens and even lens coating after taking into account the customers facial features, lifestyle and occupation. For customers that visit a dispensing optician without a prescription, the use of a focimeter that records spectacle dimensions, allows them to replicate an existing set of glasses. Additionally, if access to the customer’s records is available, they may be able to duplicate or re-make spectacles or contact lenses.

Some dispensing opticians originate the dimensions and requirements required by laboratory technicians who are charged with sizing and fitting lenses into the frame. Furthermore, auditing the lenses once made to ensure that the lenses have been ground and fitted to the stipulated specifications. Once the customer is ready to collect their spectacles, they may reshape or bend the frame so that the spectacles fit the customer properly and comfortably. The repair and refitting of broken or damaged frames and lenses is also a common task. Their knowledge and expertise provide valuable client information and instructions with regard to the correct maintenance, care and use of the corrective lenses.

Like many of the medical professions, there are boards and organisations which promote best practice principles and accreditation of industry standards. One such organisation in New Zealand is the Association of Dispensing Opticians of New Zealand (ADONZ), which was formed in 1952 and focuses upon the development of new industry regulations and education of dispensing opticians. ADONZ is responsible under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 for ensuring that optometrists and dispensing opticians are competent to practise their professions, as well as complying with ongoing regulation and industry trends that affect their practice.

According to the provisions of section 118 of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003, the board is charged with responsibility for:

– Setting the qualifications that must be obtained for practitioners to register
– Monitoring the educational institutes that offer such qualifications
– Screening and authorising the registration of optometrists and dispensing opticians
– Considering applications for annual practising certificates
– Reviewing and promoting the competence of optometrists and dispensing opticians
– Setting standards of clinical competence, cultural competence and ethical conduct

Consumer demand for dispensing opticians is expected to increase as a result of a rapidly ageing population that will require additional assistance with their vision difficulties, as well as new fashion lenses and developments in contact lenses encouraging increasing consumer spending on such products. Additionally, new technologies will provide additional incentive to replace old lenses with new models.