Medical doctors typically focus on particular bodily systems when treating an illness. For example, if a patient is experiencing a drop in kidney function, the kidneys will most likely play a primary role in the diagnostic and treatment phases. Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs), on the other hand, treat the patient as a whole. DOs most commonly treat patients with osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT)--a physical, hands-on method concentrating on ensuring the body's movement is not impaired. Unimpeded movement is to the DO a sign that the body's regenerative capacities are also functioning appropriately.
Both traditional MDs and DOs complete four years of medical school as a part of their licensing education. Both types of doctors may also choose to specialize in any branch of medicine. In addition to post-medical school residency requirements, however, DOs also spend between 300 and 500 additional hours studying the body's musculoskeletal system and hands-on medicine. Doctors of osteopathic medicine take a patient's medical history into account quite literally, operating on the principle that a particular patient's history of physical illness and trauma are evident in the body's structure. DOs spend hundreds of hours honing their sense of touch to be able to better comprehend how the patient's systems are interacting while relying only on sensory information.
As for licensing, both DOs and MDs are licensed at the state level in the US. Some osteopathic physicians choose to specialize, which requires board certification in a similar fashion to MDs. This process features a 2-6 year residency (depending on the area of specialization) and the successful completion of several board certification exams. DOs may choose to specialize in any medical branch, from geriatrics to psychiatry. Since the training that DOs receive is for the most part quite similar to MDs, DOs often use many of the same methods in diagnosis and treatment.
Though DOs receive much of the same training as MDs, osteopathic medicine has received harsh criticism in many medical circles. Due to the fact that osteopathic treatment focuses heavily on physical exams and hands-on medicine, many traditional medical doctors have noted that osteopathic medicine fails to fully utilize the potential of modern diagnostic and treatment technology. Much of this equipment, in turn, has been developed to decrease physician error due to misdiagnosis or poor treatment methods. When considering treatment by a DO, it is therefore advised to obtain a second (MD-based) opinion if the condition is expected to affect anything beyond the musculoskeletal system.