William J. Burke, DO, chair of the AOA’s Brand Awareness Task Force, speaks with a group of students at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Dublin (Ohio) campus.
Profession’s pulse

1,200 DOs and students surveyed: Results reveal optimism, key concerns

Priority areas include medical school affordability, reimbursement and coding, and practicality of practicing primary care.

DOs and osteopathic medical students are generally optimistic about the future of the profession, according to the results of market research conducted last year in preparation for the AOA’s national osteopathic awareness campaign.

“There was a lot of optimism across the spectrum, both from older DOs and from students and physicians who are new to practice,” says Pam Loeb, principal at Washington D.C.-based Edge Research, which conducted the analysis.

Data was gathered through five virtual focus groups of DOs and osteopathic medical students, as well as a survey of approximately 1,200 DOs and students. The survey revealed that osteopathic physicians feel more positive than negative about the future by a 2-to-1 margin.

Despite the optimism, DOs and students identified some areas of concern, including lack of awareness about osteopathic medicine and the affordability of medical school.

Raising awareness

More than three-quarters of DOs and students indicated that increased public familiarity with osteopathic medicine is a priority for them. Loeb, who also conducted research on health care patients’ perceptions of DOs, says that despite the profession’s growth, public understanding lags behind.

“In our research with consumers, we definitely saw a gap, both in terms of awareness of DOs as an option and in really understanding what DOs do,” she says.

For AOA Trustee William J. Burke, DO, who chairs the AOA’s Brand Awareness Task Force, the importance of raising the profession’s profile is an essential takeaway from the research. “That’s a concern we’ve heard loud and clear, and it’s one of the main drivers for the AOA’s brand awareness campaign,” he notes.

The three-year campaign, launched in October 2015, targets patients through advertising on health-focused websites; in publications such as Runner’s World, Parents, and People; and around select cities via billboards and promotion in health clubs and public transit systems. The DO has previously covered the campaign’s goals and messaging and how its creators identified the core target audience.

Big-picture problems

The research also revealed that the costs of attending medical school and running a practice rank as top concerns among current and future osteopathic physicians.

“A lot of the concerns DOs have are the same as concerns other physicians have—the affordability of medical school, reimbursement, coding and payment,” Loeb notes. “There’s also concern about the affordability of practicing primary care, given that the majority of DOs are primary care physicians.”

Among DOs and students, 86% are concerned and 54% are very concerned about student debt and the affordability of medical school.

More than 80% are apprehensive about reimbursement, coding and payment systems, while more than three-quarters of DOs and students worry about physicians being priced out of practicing primary care.

Physicians’ and students’ interest in advocacy speaks to their concerns about these topics, Dr. Burke says. “DOs and our students want to make sure they have a voice in health care legislation,” he says. Policy changes in areas such as meaningful use and professional liability are of particular interest, he noted.

As DOs work to shape policy at the state and federal level, osteopathic physicians and students from across the country will gather in Washington, D.C., later this spring to educate lawmakers about osteopathic medicine as part of DO Day on Capitol Hill. Learn how you can take part.

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