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Osteopathic physicians on the rise

Dr. Bruce Houston, D.O., sometimes uses his hands to diagnose patients in his family practice. According to Houston, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine have similar medical training as M.D.s, and may choose identical specialties.

Dr. Bruce Houston, D.O., sometimes uses his hands to diagnose patients in his family practice. According to Houston, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine have similar medical training as M.D.s, and may choose identical specialties.

ALBANY — Its easy to know if your doctor is qualified — just check for the M.D. after his name, right? Well, that’s a pretty good start. But what if there’s a D.O. there instead? Is there something missing? Should you go shopping for a new physician?

Relax. As almost everyone knows, the M.D. is for “Medical Doctor,” a reassuring term. The less common designation of D.O. is for “Doctor of Osteopathy,” and should leave you feeling just as comfortable. At the traditional heart of their training D.O.s are capable of manipulating muscle mass and bone similar to the way in which a chiropractor adjusts a human spine. Unlike a chiropractor, D.O.s may be qualified in any of a variety of specialties, such as urology, family practice, or dermatology. In addition, these physicians may prescribe medicines or even perform complex surgery. In fact, D.O.s attend their own medical schools which prepare their graduates in a manner essentially identical to traditional medical universities.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, the roots of modern osteopathic medicine date to 1874, when Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, a medical doctor in Missouri, became dissatisfied with the effectiveness of the treatments and medicines of his day. Still was one of the first in his time to study the attributes of good health so that he could better understand the process of disease.

Still’s wellness philosophy was founded in the concept of “holistic healing,” or the idea of the body as single unit. His primary focus lay in the interconnected system of nerves, muscle and bones, which together make up more than two thirds its total mass. In addition there was greater emphasis on preventive health measures such as eating well and keeping fit.

Dr. Bruce Houston, D.O., with Medical Associates of Albany is board certified in Family Medicine, he says, and graduated West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. Just as a “traditional” physician would, Houston treats his patients “according to their needs,” he said, whether those needs call for lifestyle advise, medication, referral to a specialist or an osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) of muscle or bone, as he was trained to do in school.

“Often I’ll use my hands as diagnostic tools to determine the nature of a problem,” Houston said, “especially in the case of an injury. After that I’ll determine the best method of treatment.”

Houston said he’d always wanted to be a doctor and had applied to both traditional medical schools and osteopathic schools. When he was given an opportunity to observe a Thomasville D.O., he made up his mind.”

“I was big into sports, for one thing,” Houston, said, “and this was a natural for sports injuries. When I was watching this doctor work and saw how many people he helped, it seemed the way to go to have the traditional medical training and the osteopathic as well.”

Houston said he believes that D.O. physicians have come to prefer the title “Doctor of Osteopathy” rather than the older “Osteopath” moniker because of the mental association with bones or chiropractors.

“It goes far beyond that,” Houston said. “In fact, most D.O.s have their own specialties and even though (OMT) was a part of their core training, they never have a reason to manipulate muscle tissue or bone.”

According to the AOA, applicants to both D.O. and M.D. colleges typically have four-year undergraduate degrees with emphasis on science courses.

Houston believes himself to be the first of “fifteen or more” D.O.s who have established practices in Albany over the past twenty years, he says, and estimates his own Family Medicine practice at about 2000 patients. That includes the employees of M&M Mars, where he under contract, he said.