This study described osteopathic practise activity, scope of practice and the osteopathic patient profile in order to understand the role osteopathy plays within the United Kingdom’s (UK) health system a decade after the authors’ previous survey.
The researchers used a retrospective questionnaire survey design to ask about osteopathic practice and audit patient case notes. All UK-registered osteopaths were invited to participate in the survey. The survey was conducted using a web-based system. Each participating osteopath was asked about themselves, and their practice and asked to randomly select and extract data from up to 8 random new patient health records during 2018. All patient-related data were anonymized.
The survey response rate was 500 osteopaths (9.4% of the profession) who provided information about 395 patients and 2,215 consultations. Most osteopaths were:
- self-employed (81.1%; 344/424 responses),
- working alone either exclusively or often (63.9%; 237/371),
- able to offer 48.6% of patients an appointment within 3 days (184/379).
Patient ages ranged from 1 month to 96 years (mean 44.7 years, Std Dev. 21.5), of these 58.4% (227/389) were female. Infants <1 years old represented 4.8% (18/379) of patients. The majority of patients presented with musculoskeletal complaints (81.0%; 306/378) followed by pediatric conditions (5%). Persistent complaints (present for more than 12 weeks before the appointment) were the most common (67.9%; 256/377) and 41.7% (156/374) of patients had co-existing medical conditions.
The most common treatment approaches used at the first appointment were:
- soft-tissue techniques (73.9%; 292/395),
- articulatory techniques (69.4%; 274/395),
- high-velocity low-amplitude thrust (34.4%; 136/395),
- cranial techniques (23%).
The mean number of treatments per patient was 7 (mode 4). Osteopaths’ referral to other healthcare practitioners amounted to:
- GPs 29%
- Other complementary therapists 21%
- Other osteopaths 18%
The authors concluded that osteopaths predominantly provide care of musculoskeletal conditions, typically in private practice. To better understand the role of osteopathy in UK health service delivery, the profession needs to do more research with patients in order to understand their needs and their expected outcomes of care, and for this to inform osteopathic practice and education.
What can we conclude from a survey that has a 9% response rate?
If I ignore this fact, do I find anything of interest here?
Not a lot!
Perhaps just three points:
- Osteopaths use high-velocity low-amplitude thrusts, the type of manipulation that has most frequently been associated with serious complications, too frequently.
- They also employ cranial osteopathy, which is probably the least plausible technique in their repertoire, too often.
- They refer patients too frequently to other SCAM practitioners and too rarely to GPs.
To come back to the question asked in the title of this post: What do UK osteopaths do? My answer is
ALMOST NOTHING THAT MIGHT BE USEFUL.