If you check your area for the closest doctor, you may find that some have an “M.D.” (doctor of medicine) after their names, while others have “D.O.” (doctor of osteopathic medicine). It’s pretty obvious that those are types of medical degrees. But you may find yourself wondering a lot more about these two types of physicians: who they are, what training they have, and which doctor—M.D. vs D.O.—may be best for you.
Well, wonder no longer. Here are five important things to know about these two types of medical professionals.
Need health insurance before you visit your local M.D. or D.O.? Explore your options online, or call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 304-3414 to find a health insurance plan that might be right for you.
How are M.D.s and D.O.s similar?
Both an M.D. and D.O. degree means your doctor is a licensed physician. “M.D.s use an allopathic approach, which means they frequently use surgery and researched-based contemporary medicine to manage and treat particular conditions,” says Victoria Glass, M.D., a practicing physician with the Farr Institute in Iowa. “D.O.s use an osteopathic approach that focuses on whole-body and preventive care, regardless of traditional medicines.”
Both M.D.s and D.O.s also take a science-based approach to diagnosis and treatment after years of studying and receiving board certification, explains Kristina DeMatas, D.O., a family and sports medicine physician in Jacksonville, Florida.
How are M.D.s vs D.O.s different?
“The main difference between M.D.s and D.O.s is related to their philosophy,” Dr. DeMatas says. “M.D.s typically prescribe medications to offset symptoms (aka allopathy) or recommend surgery. D.O.s use a unique whole-person approach to help prevent illness and injury.”
Their medical school training reflects this difference. M.D.s attend allopathic medical schools, while D.O.s attend osteopathic medical schools. (But both schools have the same admissions requirements, and both look at grade-point average and Medical College Admission Test scores.)
While the schools teach largely the same curriculum, from their first days in medical school, D.O.s also receive training in manual therapy and the musculoskeletal system (about 200 hours total) to help restore balance to the body. (The musculoskeletal system includes bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissues.)
The number of D.O.s in the United States is increasing.
Considering that the number of D.O.s in this country is rising, chances are you’ll get medical care from both M.D.s and D.O.s. at some point. This past year, the number of osteopathic physicians in the United States climbed to nearly 135,000, an 80% increase over the past decade.¹
There are a lot more would-be D.O.s out there, too. About one-quarter of U.S. medical students train at osteopathic medical schools.² As of last year in the US, there were some 37 osteopathic medical schools with 58 campuses that enroll more than 30,000 students each.³
You’re more likely to find D.O.s in primary care.
About 60% of D.O.s practice in primary care specialties, including family care, internal medicine, and pediatrics.4 Doctors are more likely to practice osteopathic medicine in small communities and rural areas.³
“As an osteopathic doctor, my mission is to help people reduce the need for drugs and tap into the body’s natural ability to heal itself by focusing on prevention, rehabilitation, and diet,” Dr. DeMatas says. “Put even more simply, I want to provide advice to help weekend warriors and elite athletes alike stay active with nonsurgical techniques and holistic treatment options.”
That’s one reason D.O.s tend to focus on prevention instead of just prescribing medications. “I’d rather correct issues at the source through holistic medicine and preventive measures like rehab and nutrition,” says Dr. DeMatas.
But don’t count out those M.D.s!
Just because there are more D.O.s in primary care than M.D.s doesn’t mean that one is a better option than the other. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of annual visits by patients are made to primary care physicians, so it’s like you’ll see an M.D. at some point soon.5
The bottom line on D.O.s and M.D.s
When choosing a doctor, there is no right or wrong answer. “In my professional opinion, you should be comfortable and confident with both D.O.s and M.D.s,” Dr. Glass says.
Need an insurance plan that covers your local M.D. or D.O.? Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 304-3414 to help you find a plan that covers them today. Or, explore plans online to compare networks, coverage, and costs at any time.