Context: Osteopathic medicine in the United States continues to produce a substantial number of physicians and medical educators. However, recently popularized misconceptions about osteopathic medical practice, education, and manual therapy suggest an unsettling prevalence of inaccurate beliefs held by the public. The public often searches the internet to find out information about osteopathic medicine, but the content of questions and the transparency of the resulting information is unknown.
Objectives: We sought to explore frequently asked questions (FAQs) generated by Google to assess commonly searched questions about the osteopathic profession and to determine the level of information transparency associated with resulting sources.
Methods: On June 16, 2021, we searched Google for three terms: “osteopathic medicine,” “doctor of osteopathic medicine,” and “DO,” until a minimum of 100 FAQs and their answer links were extracted from each search. After excluding irrelevant FAQs, we used Rothwell’s Classification of Questions to categorize the FAQs. We then used the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Benchmark Criteria to assess information transparency for each corresponding answer source provided by Google. The answer sources were screened for the inappropriate use of “osteopathy” in place of “osteopathic medicine” and for “osteopath” in place of “DO,” “Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine,” or “Osteopathic Physician.” We performed statistical tests to ascertain the differences in information transparency between osteopathic and nonosteopathic information sources.
Results: Our Google search revealed 110 unique FAQs about osteopathic medicine. The majority of FAQs were classified as fact-based (82/110; 74.55%), nearly half of which (45.12%) were related to the medical practicing privileges of DOs. The FAQs were most commonly answered by academic institutions (44/110, 40.0%). Nearly half (49.09%) of the linked answer sources were deemed inadequate by JAMA benchmark criteria. Of the 110 linked answer sources, 19 (17.27%) misused either osteopathy, osteopath, or both to describe osteopathic physicians. Only 30 sources were linked to US-based osteopathic organizations. Osteopathic organizations were statistically less likely to meet high-transparency criteria than nonosteopathic organizations (p=0.002).
Conclusions: Our study shows that the US public may be unsure about the physician status of DOs, which may prevent securing the professional identity of osteopathic physicians in the eyes of the public. Osteopathic organizations should tailor awareness campaigns toward addressing the common misconceptions revealed by our study. Osteopathic organizations should use transparency criteria as a rubric when publishing information to enhance transparency.