Osteopathic medicine is a distinct form of medical practice in the United States. Osteopathic medicine provides all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury.
It also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention. Osteopathic physicians ascribe to a medical philosophy that bases their clinical practice on the four tenets of osteopathic medicine:
- The body is completely united; the person is a fully integrated being of body, mind and spirit. No single part of the body functions independently. Each separate part is interconnected with all others and serves to benefit the collective whole of the person. Alterations in any part of the system, including an individual’s mental and spiritual health, affect the function of the body as a whole and all other parts therein.
- The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health-maintenance. Health is the natural state of the body, and the body possesses complex, homeostatic, self-regulatory mechanisms that it uses to heal itself from injury. In times of disease, when a part of the body is functioning sub-optimally, other parts of the body come out of their natural state of health in order to compensate for the dysfunction. During this compensatory process, however, new dysfunctions may arise. Osteopathic physicians must work to adjust the body so as to realign its parts back to normal. Osteopathic manipulative medicine aims to restore the body’s self-healing capacity by decreasing allostatic load, or the physiologic effects of chronic bodily stresses, and enhancing the immune system.
- Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated. The structure of a body part governs its function, and thus abnormal structure manifests as dysfunction. Function also governs structure. In addition, if the body’s overall structure is suboptimal, its functioning and capacity for self-healing will be inhibited as well.
- Rational treatment is based on an understanding of these three aforementioned principles. These basic osteopathic tenets permeate all aspects of health maintenance and disease prevention and treatment. The osteopathic physician examines, diagnoses, and treats patients according to these principles.
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine or (D.O.s) are trained to look at the whole person from their first days of medical school, which means they see each person as more than just a collection of organ systems and body parts that may become injured or diseased.
This holistic approach to patient care means that osteopathic medical students learn how to integrate the patient into the health care process as a partner. They are trained to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, and they get the opportunity to practice these skills in their classrooms and learning laboratories, frequently with standardized and simulated patients.
Today, when the challenge of ensuring an adequate number of primary care physicians extends to osteopathic medicine, the majority of most osteopathic medical school graduates choose careers in primary care. Osteopathic medicine also has a special focus on providing care in rural and urban underserved areas, allowing D.O.s to have a greater impact on the U.S. population’s health and well-being than their numbers would suggest. While D.O.s constitute seven percent of all U.S. physicians, they are responsible for 16 percent of patient visits in communities with populations of fewer than 2,500.