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What Is Osteopathic Family Medicine?

Osteopaths provide comprehensive medical care to patients of all ages.
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  • Written By: J. Finnegan
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Osteopathic family medicine incorporates the philosophies of osteopathy into the medical specialty of family medicine. General practice, or family medicine, provides comprehensive medical care to people of both sexes and all ages, across all diseases and organ systems. Osteopathy is an American branch of the medical profession that incorporates the philosophy that an individual is an integrated unit of mind, body, and spirit, and attempts to treat the patient holistically. Osteopathic family medicine accepts that mental or emotional state can cause or exacerbate a physical ailment, and seeks to alleviate the physical, mental, and emotional manifestations of an illness through conventional medical practice and hands-on therapy.

The concept of osteopathic medicine was proposed by Andrew Taylor Still, Doctor of Medicine (MD), and Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) in 1874. Still was a physician and surgeon who founded the American School of Osteopathy in 1892. Dr. Still believed that bone was the starting point for ascertaining a diagnosis. The term osteopathy is derived from the medical name for bone, which is osteon.

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Family medicine is a subcategory of the medical specialty called primary care. A family medical care practitioner acts as the main medical consultant for a patient, and will direct the patient to the correct medical specialist or surgeon if one is needed. Any medical specialist can act as the primary medical care provider for a patient, but won't necessarily provide medical care for the rest of the patient's family. For instance, a woman could use her gynecologist as her primary care physician, but that physician wouldn't provide care for the woman's husband. A family medicine practitioner can provide ongoing comprehensive care to the woman and her entire family.

Practitioners of osteopathic family medicine use the DO distinction and receive the same modern medical training as their MD counterparts. DO's can be surgeons and can practice the medical specialty of their choice. The greatest difference between MD's and DO's is the philosophical approach to treating patients.

Unlike MD's, however, DO's must receive an extra 300 to 500 hours of additional training in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM), which is the application of both Osteopathic Manipulative Technique (OMT) and the holistic osteopathic philosophy. OMT is a manual type of therapy that includes treatments like massage and joint manipulation. A practitioner of osteopathic family medicine provides manual and conventional medical treatment with emphasis on treating the whole patient, not just the patient's symptoms.

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