Background: Osteopathy is a type of complementary medicine based on specific manual techniques. In many countries, including Germany, the profession is not officially regulated, and evidence for the effectiveness of osteopathy is insufficient for most diseases. Nevertheless, many health insurances in Germany offer reimbursement for therapy costs, if osteopathy is recommended by a physician. This cross-sectional survey of German general practitioners (GPs) explored beliefs and attitudes towards osteopathic medicine and described their daily interactions with it.
Methods: A random sample of 1000 GPs from all federal states was surveyed by mail using a self-designed questionnaire. We collected data on sociodemographics, personal experiences with osteopathy, and attitudes and expectations towards osteopathy. In particular, participants were asked about indications for osteopathic treatment and their beliefs about its effectiveness for different patient groups and diagnoses. A self-designed score was used to estimate general attitudes towards osteopathy and identify factors correlated with greater openness. Additionally, we performed logistic regression to reveal factors associated with the frequency of recommending osteopathy to patients.
Results: Response rate was 34.4%. 46.5% of participants were women, and the median age was 56.0 years. 91.3% of GPs had referred patients to an osteopath, and 88.0% had recommended osteopathy to their patients. However, 57.5% acknowledged having little or no knowledge about osteopathy. Most frequent reasons for a recommendation were spinal column disorders (46.2%), other complaints of the musculoskeletal system (18.2%) and headaches (9.8%). GPs estimated the highest benefit for chronically ill and middle-aged adults. Female gender (OR 2.09; 95%CI 1.29-3.38) and personal treatment experiences (OR 5.14; 95%CI 2.72-9.72) were independently positively associated with more frequent treatment recommendation.
Conclusion: GPs in Germany have frequent contact with osteopathy, and the vast majority have recommended osteopathic treatment to some extent in their practice, with foci and opinions comparable to other Western countries. The discrepancy between GPs making frequent referrals for osteopathic treatment while self-assessing to have little knowledge about it demonstrates need for intensified research on the collaboration with osteopaths and how to best integrate osteopathic treatments. Our results may help to focus future effectiveness studies on most relevant clinical conditions in general practice.