The role of osteopathy in the Swiss primary health care system: a practice review

BMJ Open. 2018 Sep 1;8(8):e023770. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023770.


Objectives: The aim of this study was to describe osteopathic activity and scope of practice to understand the current and future role of osteopathy in the Swiss healthcare system.

Design: A questionnaire survey that included a patient record-based retrospective clinical audit.

Setting/population: Osteopaths with a national diploma (n=1086) were invited by mail to participate in an online survey. Osteopathic assistants (n=84) were identified through their national association.

Questionnaire: The survey was constructed from previous surveys and tested for face validity with experts, osteopaths and patient representatives. The questionnaires were completed online in English, German and French between April and August 2017. Osteopaths anonymously reported information about themselves, their practice, and the treatment and care for four randomly selected patients they managed in 2016.

Results: The response rate from the survey was 44.5% (521/1171). Data on osteopathic care were collected for 1144 patients and 3449 consultations. In 2016, osteopaths saw approximately 6.8% of the Swiss population for 1700 000 consultations and an overall estimated cost of 200 million Swiss francs. 76% of patients sought care directly without a referral from another care provider. Few osteopaths (<1%) work in a hospital setting and 46% work in isolation in private practice. Infants (under 2 years old) made up 10% of all patients and 9% of patients were ≥65 years. Patients most commonly sought treatment for musculoskeletal conditions (81%) with the spine being the most frequent location (66%). Treatments also included exercise advice (34.2%) and lifestyle management (35.4%). Fewer than 1 patient out of 10 were referred to another health profession or provider.

Conclusions: In Switzerland, osteopathic care represents an important first line management for musculoskeletal conditions that alleviates some of the burden of care in the Swiss primary healthcare system.

Keywords: Switzerland; clinical audit; osteopathic care; scope of practice; survey.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy
  • Osteopathic Medicine* / methods
  • Osteopathic Medicine* / statistics & numerical data
  • Osteopathic Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Switzerland