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Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?
Aren't they both eye doctors?

Yes, both optometrists and ophthalmologists are eye doctors. However, their training and background are different. After college, an optometrist spends 4 years in optometry school studying eyes and earns an OD, or doctor of optometry degree. Once optometry school is completed, they can practice optometry. After college, an ophthalmologist spends 4 years in medical school studying medicine and earns an MD, or doctor of medicine degree. After finishing medical school, ophthalmologists spend an additional 4 years studying eye diseases, eye treatment, and eye surgery in a hands-on training period called "residency." Once residency is completed, they can practice ophthalmology. In addition to the 4 years of residency for Dr. Chen to become an eye MD, he spent an additional year in subspecialty fellowship to train in the treatment of corneal diseases and corneal surgery, including corneal transplantation.

For New Patients

What should I bring with me to my first visit?
Please bring a list of your medical conditions and medications, including doses, with you to your first visit, and for every visit after that. If you would prefer, you can also bring your medication bottles. We want to make sure we understand your current health issues so that we can provide the best care possible. In addition, please bring the glasses that you currently use or your most recent prescription. If you wear contact lenses, please bring the packaging (it has detailed lens measurements on the label). We also recommend that you bring a pair of sunglasses in case you are dilated. For more information about dilation, please read below.

What can I expect from my first visit?
We will review your forms with you for accuracy. After reviewing your history and any active concerns, we will perform pre-testing for baseline information. The doctor will then examine you with a microscope, discuss any findings, and answer any questions. We feel strongly that a dilated examination is part of any thorough eye examination, even if you have had one by another provider recently. Dr. Chen believes it is important to perform any examinations himself so that he has all the information he needs to make the appropriate medical diagnoses and recommendations. The length of your visit depends on the complexity of your eye issues and the amount of testing required. Without knowing what conditions you may have, we cannot tell you exactly how long your visit will last, so we ask that you set aside about 60-90 minutes for your first visit.

What is dilation and what does it entail?
Dilation is the process of widening the pupil with eye drops so that the back of the eye can be examined. Although parts of the back of the eye can be examined without dilation in some patients who have naturally large pupils, it is impossible in most cases to do a thorough examination of the back of the eye without dilation. This is why we feel strongly that a dilation should be performed for all patients on a regular basis. Dilation is achieved by placing dilating drops in the eyes. Typical dilation drops work in about 20-30 minutes, although some eyes respond more quickly and some eyes respond more slowly. The dilation wears off over a period of about 3-4 hours, although this can also vary. Dilation will affect mostly your near vision by making near objects appear blurry, but can affect the distance vision in some people. You will be sensitive to light while dilated, so you may wish to bring a pair of sunglasses. Some people feel uncomfortable driving after dilation, so we recommend that you bring someone with you to any examination at which you think you might be dilated, or be prepared to wait until the drops start to wear off before driving. Fortunately, the Del Mar/Carmel Valley area is beautiful and a nice place to take a walk outside!

Are examinations different for children?
Yes! Younger people are not just miniature versions of adults. The main difference in examinations for our younger patients is the need to use special dilation drops, and the need to use these drops for the determination of refractive error (the need for glasses). These drops are different in that they last longer than the typical dilating drops we use and wear off over 8-12 hours. This is necessary because some of the eye muscles in the eye that adjust focus are much stronger in younger people than in adults, and these need to be relaxed to determine an accurate prescription. We generally dilate our patients 16 years of age and younger with these special dilating drops. This is common practice and performed by most eye doctors, including pediatric eye subspecialists.

For Returning Patients

What should I bring with me to my follow-up visit?
Please bring an updated list of your medical conditions and medications, including doses, with you to your your visit. If you would prefer, you can also bring your medication bottles. We want to make sure we are up to date on your current health issues so that we can provide the best care possible.

What can I expect from my follow-up visit?
After reviewing any changes in your history and any active concerns, we will perform pre-testing for baseline information. The doctor will then examine you with a microscope, discuss any findings, and answer any questions. Whether we recommend a dilation or not will depend on your age, other health issues, eye history, and preference. In general, younger people with healthy eyes do not require a dilation every year but should have one done periodically. As we age, the need for routine examination becomes more frequent, as with most other medical surveillance visits. However, please note that we tailor this to your needs and medical history. Please set aside 45-60 minutes for your follow-up appointment.


What insurances do you accept?
We are a preferred provider for most major medical insurance PPO/EPO plans, including but not limited to:

  • Aetna
  • Blue Cross
  • Blue Shield
  • Cigna
  • HealthNet
  • Medicare
  • Tricare
  • United Healthcare

amongst others. We understand our patients' desire to keep their health costs down, and we also understand that establishing care with a physician you trust is equally important. For most insurances with which we are not an in-network provider, we are happy to see you and help you submit the paperwork for coverage as an out-of-network service. Please call us if you would like more information about our professional fees.

I don't have insurance or my insurance doesn't cover your services. Can I still come see you?
We understand that seeing a doctor you trust is important. We are happy to take care of your eye care needs, regardless of your insurance situation, and will actively work with you to find a payment arrangement that meets your needs. Please call us to discuss your specific situation and the arrangements we can make together.

Does my insurance cover my office visit, procedure, or surgery?
It is a common misconception that the doctor determines whether an office visit, office procedure, or surgery is covered by insurance. We do not make the rules as to what is covered by your insurance and what is not. Unfortunately, that is determined by your insurance company and not by us. In addition, every insurance company is different in what they cover as well as the documentation required for these services to be covered. We are meticulous in documentation so that everything that can be covered is covered.

We offer what we believe is best for you, regardless of your insurance. If there are services that are not usually covered by your insurance company, we will discuss this with you before performing them.

The most common items which may or may not be covered by medical insurance include refraction (determining the appropriate glasses prescription to help you see better), contact lens fittings and follow-ups, refractive surgery (LASIK, PRK, etc.), premium intra-ocular lenses following cataract surgery (ReStor, ReZoom, Crystalens), and cosmetic surgery.

Why isn't refraction (testing to see if one needs glasses) covered by all insurances? Isn't this part of a routine eye exam?
Refraction is necessary to assess the health of the eye and it is part of many eye examinations, including baseline exams. To determine if vision less than 20/20 is due to the need for glasses (refractive error) or true medical disease, a refraction must be performed. However, we don't make the rules and some insurance companies choose not to cover this test. Why isn't it covered by all insurances? Your guess is as good as ours, as it requires specialized equipment with specially trained technicians. To determine if your insurance covers refraction (CPT Code 92015) or to let them know how you feel if it is not covered, please call your insurance company.