Context: Patient-centered care is often considered a characteristic of osteopathic medicine, in addition to the use of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) in such musculoskeletal conditions as low back pain.
Objectives: This study aimed to determine if patient-centered care or OMT are mediators of the clinical outcomes of osteopathic medicine in patients with chronic low back pain.
Methods: A comparative effectiveness study was conducted within the Pain Registry for Epidemiological, Clinical, and Interventional Studies and Innovation (PRECISION Pain Research Registry). Eligible patients met the diagnostic criteria recommended by the National Institutes of Health Task Force on Research Standards for Chronic Low Back Pain and completed four consecutive quarterly encounters between April 2016 and November 2020. The Consultation and Relational Empathy instrument for patient-centered care was used at the baseline encounter and OMT use was measured at the final encounter. The clinical outcome measures included low back pain intensity on a numerical rating scale (NRS) from 0 to 10, back-related functioning on the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ), and pain impact on the National Institutes of Health Minimum Dataset for Chronic Low Back Pain (NIH-MDS). A parallel multiple mediator model was used to compute the direct and indirect effects of osteopathic medicine in achieving each of the three clinical outcomes.
Results: The 404 study patients had a mean age of 52.2 years (standard deviation, 13.1 years) and 288 (71.3%) were female. The 88 (21.8%) patients treated by osteopathic physicians reported more favorable scores for patient-centered care (mean, 41.3; 95% CI 39.0–43.5) than patients treated by allopathic physicians (mean, 38.0; 95% CI 36.8–39.3) (p=0.02). Fifty-six (63.6%) patients treated by osteopathic physicians used OMT. The age- and sex-adjusted outcomes for patients of osteopathic vs. allopathic physicians across all four encounters were: mean, 5.4; 95% CI 5.0–5.7 vs. mean, 5.9; 95% CI 5.7–6.1 on the NRS for pain intensity (p=0.01); mean, 11.3; 95% CI 10.1–12.6 vs. mean, 14.0; 95% CI 13.3–14.7 on the RMDQ for back-related disability (p<0.001); and mean, 26.8; 95% CI 24.9–28.7 vs. mean, 30.1; 95% CI 29.1–31.1 on the NIH-MDS for pain impact (p=0.002). Patient-centered care did not mediate any outcome of osteopathic medicine, whereas OMT mediated better outcomes in low back pain intensity.
Conclusions: This appears to be the first study to simultaneously address both patient-centered care and OMT as potential mediators of the effect of osteopathic medicine in treating chronic pain. Patient-centered care did not mediate the effects of osteopathic medicine and OMT only mediated outcomes relating to low back pain intensity. More research is needed to identify other aspects of osteopathic medicine that mediate its beneficial effects in patients with chronic low back pain.