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Total Body Medicine

Osteopaths are achieving greater capability.

WebMD Feature

When Nancy Nichols began her osteopathic practice 15 years ago, no hospital in her town of Mesa, AZ, would grant her privileges. Today, she's welcome to practice at all of them.

To Nichols, that represents real progress for her profession. Long considered pseudo-doctors by the medical establishment, osteopathic doctors are in fact licensed physicians who can do surgery and prescribe drugs but have added training in manipulative therapy. It's the manipulation part of the practice that has earned them a reputation as "alternative" practitioners.

But only 6.2% of osteopathic physicians currently practice manipulation on the majority of their patients, leading many to worry that their profession will soon have nothing that distinguishes D.O.s from M.D.s. "It?s sort of like being the victim of our own success,?? says Eugene Oliveri, DO, president of the American Osteopathic Association. The November 4, 1999 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine warned osteopaths that they are losing something valuable.

The journal reported a study by researchers at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center and the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine that compared osteopathic manipulation to treatment of the type practiced by orthopedists for low back pain. The researchers randomly assigned 178 patients to receive one or the other type of treatment. After 12 weeks, both groups of patients were equally satisfied with the care they received. The only significant difference was that the osteopathic patients used fewer drugs and paid less for their treatment.