AOA House reasserts preferred terms osteopathic physician, osteopathic medicine
Refining a policy last revised in 2005, the AOA House of Delegates on July 17 approved a resolution recommending that the terms osteopath and osteopathy be reserved for informal or historical discussions and for referring to previously named entities in the profession and foreign-trained osteopaths.
Titled “Osteopath and Osteopathy—Use of the Terms,” Resolution 301 (A/2010) (PDF) calls for members of the osteopathic medical profession to “preferentially use the term ‘osteopathic physician’ in place of the word ‘osteopath’ and the term ‘osteopathic medicine’ in place of the word ‘osteopathy.’ ”
The AOA has long used and encouraged others to use the terms osteopathic physician and osteopathic medicine. These terms reinforce to the public that U.S.-trained DOs are fully licensed physicians, according to the AOA.
But some members of the American Academy of Osteopathy (AAO) consider the AOA’s preference to be insulting to the profession’s heritage and even dangerous to the profession’s custody of the traditional terms, according to AAO President Richard A. Feely, DO.
Dr. Feely warned that if the profession were to repudiate osteopath and osteopathy, an outside entity could appropriate these terms. He noted that in Japan, a chiropractor copyrighted the term osteopathy in an attempt to limit competition in manipulation.
“Once we say that we are no longer going to use these terms—that they are no longer part of us—then we are giving them up and could lose the opportunity to use them again,” Dr. Feely said during a committee meeting of the AOA Board of Trustees a few days before the House convened.
AOA General Counsel Joshua L. Prober, JD, however, later assuaged such fears. “I wouldn’t infer that what happened in Japan under Japanese copyright and trademark law will also happen here,” Prober said. “While the big-picture purpose of the Japanese law—protecting intellectual property—is the same as ours, the two countries go about this differently.” He added that the AOA can contest inappropriate copyright and trademark registrations on the term osteopath and its variations because the AOA monitors those actions through an outside service.
Not preferred, but not archaic
While making its preferred terms clear, the AOA House stopped well short of casting aside osteopath and osteopathy for good.
Represented by Jane E. Carreiro, DO, the AAO successfully pushed for inserting “preferentially” into the policy to encourage greater flexibility in replacing osteopath with osteopathic physician and osteopathy with osteopathic medicine. Moreover, the House overwhelmingly halted a move to brand the traditional terms as anachronisms.
That motion started when the House Committee on Professional Affairs reviewed Resolution 301 and recommended adding definitions that described both osteopath and osteopathy as “archaic.”
During the House’s consideration of the resolution, Randy G. Litman, DO, of Kentucky was among several delegates who objected to the definitions. “Many of us in this room received a doctor of osteopathy degree versus a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree. I would like the doctor of osteopathy degree not to be considered archaic,” Dr. Litman said to the House’s applause.
Noting that the definitions were taken from the Glossary of Osteopathic Terminology and that she helped write them, Dr. Carreiro argued that the definitions are political and not scientific and shouldn’t be the basis of the profession’s policy.
While agreeing that the definitions should be struck from the resolution, Maryland delegate Tyler C. Cymet, DO, defended the Glossary, which was developed by the Educational Council on Osteopathic Principles of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). AACOM’s associate vice president for medical education, Dr. Cymet explained that anyone can suggest modifications to the Glossary and proposed mentioning this open process in the resolution. The House disagreed and easily defeated his motion.
After 10 minutes of floor debate, the AOA House deleted the definitions from Resolution 301 and unanimously approved it, renewing the profession’s preference for referring to its members as osteopathic physicians who practice osteopathic medicine.
Despite the House’s reaffirmation of the policy, several delegates voiced support for the currency of the traditional terms osteopath and osteopathy.
“I think that either one is perfectly acceptable,” said Massachusetts delegate Hollis. S. Coblentz, DO. “Most of the DOs in our state who are practicing probably don’t have a problem with either one.”
Alabama’s sole delegate, David Coffey, DO, agreed that the profession needs to distinguish DOs from foreign osteopaths. But he added that the traditional terms should not be exiled.
“ ‘Doctor of osteopathy’ has meant a lot to everyone who has gone before us, who has trail-blazed the profession,” said Dr. Coffey, a trustee of the AAO.
Those trailblazers include 88-year-old John A. Cifala, DO, a delegate from Virginia. “In my mind, we’re still osteopaths,” the longest continuously serving member of the House told the Committee on Professional Affairs.
“Osteopathy is a complete healing process,” Dr. Cifala said. “The word medicine in osteopathic medicine is superfluous.”
The DO’s managing editor, Patrick Sinco, contributed to this report.