What to know when choosing the right doctor for you

Doctor smiling and speaking with patient

A lot of factors come into play when finding a new primary care doctor: Are they located nearby? Will they listen to me? Can I get an appointment in a timely manner? Do they accept my insurance?

Another factor often overlooked is the difference between the two letters after their name—MD or DO. What should you know about these two types of doctor as open enrollment quickly approaches?

What’s the difference between MDs and DOs?

For starters, MD is a doctor of medicine, and a DO is a doctor of osteopathic medicine. They are both doctors licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. and are similarly educated and certified. The difference rests in their training and philosophy of patient care.

MDs focus on a diagnosis and treatment of a disease, also known as allopathic medicine. DOs also diagnose and treat symptoms while viewing the patient with a more holistic lens that examines all aspects of the body.

Both MDs and DOs follow a similar nine-plus-year education path. They earn bachelor’s degrees. Then, they have four years of medical school to learn the ins and outs of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology.

What is a DO?

A health reform movement began in the 19th century called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT). It emphasizes preventive care and discourages the overuse of medications to allow the body to heal on its own. DOs adhere to this treatment philosophy along with receiving 200 hours of training in the musculoskeletal system.

While MDs do not take part in this program, many understand the importance of preventative care and practice OMT standards to help their patients live well-balanced lives.

DOs practice this by treating patients through physical touch, performing hands-on healing to focus on the body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones. Often times, doctors use the OMT method to treat muscle pain that can help patients with asthma, sinus disorder, migraines and more. Many MDs also believe in this holistic method and look at a patient’s environment, nutrition and body system when treating medical conditions.

The truth about MDs and DOs

According to a study published in the Journal Osteopathic Medicine and Primary Care, researchers at University of North Texas found little to no difference between MD and DO primary care doctors when it came to time spent with patients, how much they focused on prevention or how often they brought up lifestyle issues, like exercising, stress and nutrition.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, there is a recorded 65% increase in DOs since 2006, from 61,648 physicians in the U.S. to 102,137. In comparison, MDs make up approximately 1 million medical professionals in the U.S., according to the Federation of State Medical Boards.

When it comes to choosing the right doctor, it’s personal. Take into consideration reviews from friends and family, but most importantly make sure you consult with a physician, MD or DO, that you feel comfortable, open and honest with to make the right healthcare decisions for you and your family.

Find your perfect doctor →

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