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The D.O. Difference


When we think of our primary care provider, we often think of a clinician that we see once a year for a check-up, or perhaps someone we can contact when something doesn’t feel quite right. At Tryon Medical Partners, clinicians like Dr. Michael Farwell strive to expand their patients’ understanding of what their primary care clinician can do for their health every day of the year. As a doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.), Dr. Farwell’s medical philosophy focuses on prevention and holistic care based on an intrinsic belief that bodies can heal themselves when provided the necessary support and care necessary. 

In conversation, Dr. Farwell shares insight about his work as a D.O. and how that can differ from an M.D. 

Where does osteopathic medicine come from?

Although the idea of medical practice focused on prevention and wellness may seem modern, osteopathic medicine appeared decades ago in the shadow of the Civil War. The philosophy behind osteopathic medicine was initially developed in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still. Dr. Still was was born in Virginia in 1828, the son of a Methodist minister and physician. He followed in his father’s footsteps and studied, then practiced, medicine. After the Civil War and the tragic deaths of three of his children from spinal meningitis, Dr. Still came to the conclusion that standard medical practices were failing to meet some of the most pressing medical needs. He spent the next decade studying the human body and focusing on better ways to treat disease. 

Dr. Still’s research and observations in his medical practice informed his belief that the body contains all that is required to keep itself healthy, if provided with the necessary treatment. He focused on one fundamental idea: by correcting problems in the musculoskeletal system, through osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), the body will effectively function and heal. In doing so, Dr. Still promoted the idea of preventive medicine and a focus on treating the whole person rather than just their disease. These beliefs formed the basis of a new medical approach, osteopathic medicine. Based on this philosophy, Dr. Still opened the first school of osteopathic medicine in Kirksville, MO, in 1892.

What is the difference between an M.D. and a D.O.?

In the words of Dr. Farwell, there are “very few differences” between D.O.s and M.D.s. Clinicians licensed as D.O.s, like their M.D. peers, must pass national or state board exams in order to practice medicine. Like M.D.s, osteopathic clinicians use all of the tools available to them through modern medicine, including prescription medication and surgery. However, D.O.s may also use OMM techniques to treat illness and injury, alleviate pain, rehabilitate range of motion and strengthen the body’s capacity to heal. Dr. Farwell has found Tryon Medical Partners to be a very welcoming home for this care approach. 

“The difference between a D.O. and an M.D. really has more to do with philosophy,” Dr. Farwell notes. “With D.O.s, they are focused on mind, body and spirit. They’re thinking of their patient as a complete person. Rather than thinking, ‘what is everyone else doing to treat this problem?,’ a D.O. might think, ‘does this make sense for this person, as a whole?’ ” 

Reflective of the osteopathic approach to treating the whole person, many D.O.s, like Dr. Farwell, serve in the primary care fields: family medicine, general internal medicine and pediatrics.

Why should you consider seeing a D.O.?

If you are someone who prioritizes personalized, holistic healthcare, seeing a D.O. may be right for you. For Dr. Farwell, healthcare is about relationships and getting to know the whole person. He is not just listening for a list of health problems, but rather, a health story. Dr. Farwell is aware that people may feel uncomfortable sharing their health story with a clinician so he ensures his patients are comfortable and familiar with him before, during, and after a patient visits. 

“Given my philosophy, I tend to be more informal. People have to feel comfortable sharing, so it’s important they feel comfortable in the room. It can be hard to only see patients once a year. So it’s important to me that I know them by their name and say hello before we even enter the appointment.” 

If you’re curious about what D.O. care might look like for you, reach out to Tryon today to see how osteopathic medicine may benefit your health journey.