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Your doctor: The difference between an M.D. and D.O.

If you see a primary care physician for your general healthcare, there’s a chance you’re seeing a D.O., not an M.D. While both degrees mean your doctor is a licensed physician, their training differs slightly and each has a unique perspective on care. As Brian Krachman, D.O., an internal medicine specialist at Piedmont Physicians Group, explains, “A D.O. is an osteopathic physician, while an M.D. is a medical doctor, an allopathic physician.”

According to the American Osteopathic Association, doctors of osteopathic medicine regard the body as an integrated whole, rather than treating for specific symptoms only. Allopathic medicine, also referred to as “Western medicine,” treats disease symptoms using remedies such as drugs or surgery.

Physicians with a D.O. are licensed in all 50 states to practice medicine and surgery, as well as to prescribe medications. The education for both degrees is similar and both are required to complete accredited medical residencies. 

One major difference is D.O. programs place an emphasis on primary care. “Most D.O.s are in internal medicine, family practice, pediatrics, OB-GYN and general surgery,” says Dr. Krachman. “We spend a lot of time with people. The emphasis – which we call primary care now – is on people.”

Osteopathic medical schools also require additional classes – between 300 and 500 hours – on the skeletal system and the interactions of your body with diseases. Dr. Krachman says there may be slight personality differences between physicians with each degree, as D.O.s often address medical conditions from both a medical and lifestyle perspective. D.O.s place an emphasis on getting to know a patient’s lifestyle, family and unique concerns, which better informs their medical treatments.

However, he says patients should not see much of a difference between the two in terms of medical care.

D.O.s are trained to ask questions like this to gain a comprehensive understanding of a patient’s lifestyle, which can impact their condition. With chronic diseases like diabetes, it’s not only about the medication you’re taking, but “what are you are eating, who’s at home, how meals are prepared and who’s preparing the meals,” he says.  “It’s a supplemental layer that provides you with more opportunity to get better patient care.”

To find a primary care physician near you, visit Piedmont Physicians Group.

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