The Osteopaths’ role as an Educator

Osteopaths have a wealth of knowledge about health and wellness which can be used to promote the wellness of the general population.  Training has equipped you to be a healthcare practitioner but how well are you to be an educator?

How do you educate patients?

You educate patients when you:

  • Explain what osteopathy is
  • Explain the benefits and risks of osteopathy
  • Explain the reason for their symptoms
  • Treatment choices
  • Empower them to take an active role in regaining health

Your patients will come with a set of beliefs about their symptoms which they will have gained from previous experience, other healthcare professionals, friends, family and media.  It is part of your role to find out what they have an understood and to re-educate where appropriate.  As you will be well aware there are a multitude of myths about musculoskeletal conditions.

You educate people when you help them to understand their imaging results:

  • Explaining findings so they understand
  • Relating those findings to symptoms (or not!)
  • Explaining normal imaging findings

You will have had many patients who have come to you telling you about their imaging findings whether from months or years ago and how they have adapted their lives as a result of those findings – often inappropriately.


Your ultimate goal is to stimulate an interest in your patients in their well-being.  There is a need to identify gaps in knowledge and encourage patients to be interested enough to engage in improving their well-being.

In the OPS there is a requirement for osteopaths to promote public health.  The Institute of Osteopathy working on aspects of this with their work with Arthritis Action and promotion of the ‘One You’ campaign (see the latest magazine).

How do you educate patients?

Much of the education you provide will be verbal but it may be supplemented by the use of visual aids, directing patients to resources such as articles, websites and videos.  Engaging people in improving health can be challenging, particularly if they have a chronic condition.

I really like this model of the challenge-support relationship of practitioners and patients:

Know Pain course manual, p.56

This table demonstrates how by providing high challenge environments with high support practitioners are able to empower patients, particularly those with chronic conditions.  If you provide low support and challenge that is when patients may become dependent on you and not take responsibility for their own health.  This kind of relationship with patients may fill your diary but ultimately it may end in dissatisfaction and disengagement for both the practitioner and the patient.

What do patients want?

There has been quite a lot of research into the wants of patients including the NCOR OPEN research.  This gives a helpful insight to help you develop your practice to meet the needs of patients.  Are you communicating what patients want and are you doing it well?

Patients want to be listened to, to get good explanations from professionals, to have their questions answered, to share in decisions, and to be treated with empathy and compassion.

Osteopathic patients want:

> A perceptible improvement in symptoms.

> A return to normal activities/improved quality of life.

> Advice on how to manage the problem, prevent recurrence and worsening of symptoms.

> A clear explanation of the problem and an honest assessment of what can be achieved.

> The problem to eventually resolve completely as result of treatment.

> Appropriate, effective treatment, including, where necessary, a suitable referral.

> The practitioner to be caring, to listen, and to be sympathetic.


Education is an important part of osteopathic practice, notice how the list of patient’s wants includes advice and explanation.  Make sure you have the resources available to pass on health information to your patients and provide them with information that will help them to take responsibility for improving their health.



Integrated care: what do patients, service users and carers want? Available at:

Patients’ expectations of private osteopathic care in the UK: a national survey of patients Leach, J; Hankins, M.; Bottomley, L.M.; Cross, V.; Fawkes, C.A.; Fiske, A. and Moore, A.P. (2013) BCM Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 13:122

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