BY KIM BELLARD
Here’s how I’ll know when we’re serious about reforming the U.S. healthcare system: we’ll no longer have both M.D.s and D.O.s.
Now, I’m not saying that this change alone will bring about a new and better healthcare system; I’m just saying that until such change, our healthcare system will remain too rooted in the past, not focused enough on the science, and – most importantly – not really about patients’ best interests.
Let me make it clear from the outset that I have no dog in this hunt. I’ve had physicians who have been M.D.s and others who have been D.O.s, and I have no indication that there have been any differences in the care due to those training differences. That’s sort of the point: if there are no meaningful differences, why have both?
More than a century of American medical history was turned on its ear last week by the announcement that the groups that accredit medical residencies will unify their standards. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you failed to understand the significance (or notice at all).
But this should be viewed as good news across the land. As someone who trains doctors from both ‘traditions,’ I certainly welcome a more level playing field.
First, a little background:
Osteopathic physicians (those with a D.O., or Doctor of Osteopathy degree) have a history dating back to the 1800s. They comprise slightly more than 10% of practicing doctors in the United States. Currently, there are 35 osteopathic medical schools, compared with 135 ‘allopathic’ institutions, the kind that confer the M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) degree.
Though historically the two educational paths varied in principles and practice, there aren’t many remaining differences. Both disciplines now use biomedical science as their core.
Originally, osteopathy relied on manipulation of bones and joints to diagnose and treat illness.
This tradition, known as Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), lives on in the osteopathic curriculum, though it’s now mostly used as an adjunct for treatment of chronic musculoskeletal conditions. Today, most D.O.s leave OMT behind after they finish their training.