Misleading Claims By the
American Osteopathic Association

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) are the legal equivalents and, in most cases, are the professional equivalents of medical doctors (M.D.s). Most states have separate licensing boards to regulate the two professions, but but both professions have the same scope of practice. Osteopathic medical schools place more emphasis than medical schools do on musculoskeletal problems, but otherwise their teachings are similar. After graduation, D.O.s are free to apply for residency programs at medical institutions—and many of them do so.

Despite these similarities, the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) promotes the idea that osteopathy offers something extra [1]. Toward this end, its Web site contains radio messages that were recorded at an osteopathic convention in 2004. The messages were prepared by Sound Targeting, which prepares and distributes interviews with members of its client organizations to local and regional media [2].

In March 2005, I discovered that the company had produced at least 75 messages from osteopathic physicians [3] and that four of them were posted to the AOA Web site. The most significant of these messages was from Brian Loveless, D.O., a third-year family practice resident at the Chino Valley Medical Center in Chino, California. The Center's Web site lists his hobbies as "debating, OMM, and debating about OMM." (I assume that OMM means "osteopathic manipulative medicine.") Here's a transcript with the questionable phrases underlined.

Christopher Michael: Medicine faces many challenges. Some of the answers come from doctors with a hands-on approach to healing and prevention  And, with an eye toward that, the American Osteopathic Association is meeting in San Francisco. Among them, Dr. Brian Loveless, from Chino Valley Medical Center who spoke to reporter Christopher Michael on the topic of “What is a D.O.?”

Michael: If you’re going to see your doctor or you’re in a hospital situation and you look at the tag and after the name are the letters "D.O.," what does that mean to the patient?

Loveless: D.O.s are physicians who are fully licensed and trained to practice all types of medicine and surgery. But in addition we also receive about 400 hours of additional training in using our hands and trying to use the musculoskeletal system as a way of helping us diagnose and treat the body.

Michael: This would mean, of course, you spend more time with the patient.

Loveless: Typically if you’re gonna be putting your hands on someone, you're gonna make a more complete diagnosis, you definitely have to spend more time with them. That’s true.

Michael: How does this change the treatment of the patient?

Loveless: What we would like to do as osteopathic physicians is really get to the root of the problem. And we find that a good majority of illnesses are complicated by musculoskeletal problemsthings going on in the spine and the nervous system. So using osteopathic manipulation, we can address that and try to help the body heal itself [4].

This message is questionable for several reasons:

References

  1. Barrett S. Dubious aspects of osteopathy. Quackwatch, Aug 18, 2003.
  2. Services. Sound Targeting Web site, accessed Match 2, 2005.
  3. Radio stations: Why wait for good stories? Sound Targeting Web site, accessed March 2, 2005.
  4. Loveless B. The D.O. difference. Downloaded from the American Osteopathic Web site, March 1, 2005.

This article was posted on March 2, 2005.

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