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This article appeared in Osteopathy Today November/December 2015
What is osteopathy? This is a question that has been grappled with innumerable times. The reason it is such a difficult question to answer is because osteopathy includes a broad spectrum of treatment techniques, specialisms, patient groups, clinic settings and health philosophies. Succinctly defining this diversity has been the source of much debate.
Diversity could be considered a strength on the one hand with a range of approaches to offer to solving problems arguably increasing effectiveness but on the other hand a weakness with an ill-defined offering to patients. Osteopathy is not a cloned one-size fits all approach to health. Practices and practitioners are as diverse as the profession they represent. For patients there is a broad range of experiences in visiting an osteopath. Most patients have a common aim seeking an explanation for their symptoms and a desire for improvement. For the most part they will leave satisfied.
Despite the diversity of osteopathy as a healthcare modality there are many unifying factors. If we were to ask ‘what is an osteopath?’ some common answers could be given.
By definition to be called an ‘osteopath’ practitioners are united under the umbrella of the regulation of GOsC. All have the same core foundation. Years have been spent studying anatomy, physiology, diagnostic reasoning, examination and techniques. Each has attained the high standards of knowledge, skills and professionalism to be an osteopath.
Every osteopath has a duty to adhere to the professional standards laid out by the GOsC. Obtaining consent, handling complaints, communicating benefits and risks, audit, safeguarding are just a few of the familiar responsibilities of practitioners. All have to complete the required annual CPD. The diversity of osteopathy necessitates ensuring patients are aware of what to expect from the practice and treatment. Providing patients with information and communicating well is imperative.
Osteopaths are united in facing common problems. The difficulties of working with people have been well-documented. Patients are diverse in their preferences, expectations and values. There is the daily pressure of communicating well, of maintaining high standards of practice at all times and avoiding complaints. There is the pressure of desiring success – good clinical outcomes, maintaining a busy clinic, keeping the clinic running well and well-maintained, being a good principal or associate. There is the pressure of not achieving in these areas too. Running a practice is hard-work. All these are shared, common experiences amongst practitioners no matter what type of osteopathy they practise.
Osteopaths are also united in their values. Most have entered the profession with a desire to help people and an interest in health. High levels of job satisfaction come from a fulfilling and rewarding vocation which affords autonomy and flexibility. Most osteopaths are proud of their profession.
So whilst there is great diversity in the application of osteopathy there are many unifying factors. Your colleagues down the road – though they may be perceived as your business competitors – are also your nearest allies, sharing many of the same experiences as you.
How can osteopaths make the most of their unity?
Practitioners are all under the same professional standards – Are there opportunities for collaboration on achieving and maintaining professional standards? There can be duplication of effort in the production of clinic literature such as consent and complaints processes, researching health and safety and safeguarding requirements etc. Could this be an area where clinics could work together?
Facing problems and keeping up to date is important – Isolation and working for more than 25 years in practice have been shown to be risk factors for professional incompetence (Austin, 2011). Osteopaths face common problems and understand one another’s situations. Difficult cases or clinical experiences can be used as a learning experience. Avoiding isolation by meeting with colleagues to discuss professional issues and learning from each other could significantly improve your practice and your professional well-being. The diversity of practice will mean that often your colleague will be able to give you a different perspective on an issue. Gathering together many minds is a great learning opportunity to share knowledge and keep up to date with research and developments.
Shared skills and values amongst practitioners present a great opportunity. Clinics working in the same region could celebrate their shared osteopathic attributes in promoting osteopathy – whether this is in general local marketing, making joint presentations, obtaining contracts with businesses or improving relationships with other local healthcare practitioners. There are numerous opportunities that may be daunting as an individual or small practice but quite feasible as a team of practitioners. The recent GOsC survey (GOsC, 2015) showed that 17% of the general public have little or no confidence in osteopaths, about 55% have a fair amount of confidence and only about 10% have a lot of confidence.
Perhaps through raising public awareness of the united attributes of osteopaths as highly trained, regulated, caring, effective professionals these figures could be improved and more people could benefit from osteopathic treatment.