Only in the United States of America are osteopaths also trained doctors. In New Zealand they are alternative medicine practitioners also known as quacks and are similar in this regard to acupuncture and chiropractic. Many osteopaths in New Zealand reject medical science. They want to continue business as usual and don’t want to improve their healing skills or be subject to regulation.
If you want a real professional in New Zealand who is also a doctor (like the American system) you should start at the NZ Association of Musculoskeletal Medicine.
In New Zealand osteopaths are regulated under law by the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HPCAA). The Act says the Osteopathic Council must produce one or more ‘Scopes of Practice’ and these must be published in the NZ Government Gazette and on their website. Anyone who practices outside that Scope of Practice is subject to heavy fines. Unfortunately, it is not hard to find osteopaths practicing illegally outside the Scope of Practice. Some make all sorts of medically absurd claims about how than can treat various conditions, real or imagined.
If you insist in believing that a NZ osteopath can help you rather than a NZ Doctor of Musculoskeletal Medicine, then at least try to find an osteopath with a modicum of professional integrity. You should ask them in particular about the “differential diagnosis“.
The NZ Ostepathic Scope of Practice says “a differential diagnosis is required to determine if a structural diagnosis and the use of osteopathic manual treatment (OMT) is appropriate.” In other words, they are supposed to be able to tell you when manual treatment is not appropriate. They are supposed to be able to tell you what other medical conditions may be giving you your symptoms – there’s no point manipulating you or massaging you if you have a problem that won’t be cured that way.
So if your osteopath doesn’t know about, or won’t discuss, differential diagnosis, find another one, or better still find a Doctor of Musculoskeletal Medicine.
The NZ osteopaths know that their industry is under threat from real doctors, from the tide of history, and from people like me who are concerned when others are ripped off or don’t get proper medical care when they need it.
For example, the osteopaths 2014 Conference Report said “Another driver was, unfortunately, the need for us to protect ourselves against the purge being carried out by the “Friends of Science and Medicine”. At the moment the chiros are under the microscope and are not faring well. Our council in NZ, although subject to criticism from some members has, in my opinion, been quite smart in its approach to scopes of practice. The Friends of Science and Medicine are looking at healthcare practice from the perspective of evidence of efficacy and scientific reasoning. They would ask the question of a “paediatric osteopath” where their knowledge set came from and to receive a reply of “I’ve been practicing for 20 years therefore…..” would be risible.”
Even in their Scope of Practice, NZ osteopaths know that some of their number are not properly trained. The Scope of Practice says “The purpose of a vocational scope is to allow members of the public / referring healthcare professionals to identify osteopaths on the Register with advanced standing in a sub-domain of practice. Council recognises that there is a continuum of skill and expertise acceptable in the area of practice and it is explicit that the pre-professional training / registration in the General Osteopathic Scope of Practice gives the registrant adequate skills to be competent but that mastery of a particular area of practice may develop overtime and with further study.”
Don’t get me wrong. There is a beautiful place in our lives for human touch and massage. There is also a place for proper manual musculoskeletal medicine. What bothers me and should bother you are the false claims and an osteopath industry which wants a shortcut to making profits from people’s health needs, an industry acting to protect its status quo.
Finally, if you’re wondering about the photo above, I put it there as a wonderful reminder for what healing really means. Margaret Cruickshank in the photo was the first woman doctor in New Zealand. She would be a good example for New Zealand osteopaths to follow. She studied hard to become a doctor. She then studied hard to get further qualifications. In the 1918 flu pandemic she worked night and day until she also died of flu.