The Secret Truth Behind Choosing The Right Health Professional!

This article has been based on a presentation I gave to a group of corporate companies on how to choose the right health professional for you. Here’s a brief overview of what we’re about to cover:

  • Are there similarities between the professions? (Qualifications & Education)
  • What are the main differences? (Philosophy)
  • What’s the “real” difference 😉
  • What makes a good practitioner?
  • How to choose the right one for you

This article will focus on the three biggest musculoskeletal professions in Australia: Osteo, Physio and Chiro. Let’s dive in shall we?!

Let's Meet The Professions...

Based on data from 2019 we can see how many practitioners are associated with each profession. Without a doubt, physiotherapists are the most prevalent with over 37,000 registered as of this year (2023). A quick fun fact (and a tiny bit of bias), Osteopathy is the fastest-growing health profession in Australia with an average increase of ~7% over the past few years compared to the 3% average across other health professions. So, whilst it’s still often the least known, it’s starting to climb the ranks.

Now if all of these are completely new to you, we’re going to give a brief overview and some background history to provide a bit of context before we continue on. I’ve taken the following short descriptions from the Allied Health Professions Australia website:

Physiotherapists are experts in the structure of the human body and its movement. They work with people of all ages to treat a broad range of health conditions including sports injuries and musculoskeletal conditions as well as chronic health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, osteoarthritis and stroke. Physiotherapists are involved in the assessment, diagnosis, planning and management of patient care.

A Chiropractor diagnoses and offers treatment for back pain and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. The treatment may include manipulation, massage or ergonomic advice. 

An osteopath has a clinical focus on the way the body works, in strains or injuries and in human movement. They provide direct manual therapy interventions including exercise prescription, needling, education and associated lifestyle advice to improve movement, reduce pain and manage and/or treat a range of physical impairments.

What Do They All Have In Common?

Based on the descriptions above, I’m sure you can already see there are a few overlapping qualities between the professions. Let’s outline what all the professions have in common:

  • They are all registered & governed by AHPRA (National Health Practitioner Agency).

  • You don’t need a GP referral to go & see any of them as they are all considered “primary healthcare practitioners” meaning they classify as the first point of contact for health complaints because they are all trained to recognise when further medical action is needed.

  • Private health rebates are available for all professions depending on your level of coverage.

  • Whilst differences exist between states, universities and professions they all have a minimum of 4 years of university education across standard topics like anatomy, physiology, biomechanics etc. Individual subjects might be different between courses, but all of the professions are well qualified to work in the realm of musculoskeletal care.

What Are The Main Differences Between Them?

It’s clear they all have big things in common and they all work within the musculoskeletal field. But it’s time to discuss some of the more “traditional” differences between the professions so we can start figuring out who we should see in the unfortunate event of aches, pains or injuries.

We’re going to discuss a few brief “pros and cons” of each profession in quite a generalised way. I want to make it clear that this is not intended to offend anybody who works or knows somebody who works in each of these professions but I think it is a pretty fair snapshot of how these professions are seen by the general public. 

PHYSIOTHERAPISTS:

  • They are the experts in exercise and rehabilitation and are widely considered the most “evidence-based” of the three professions.
  • No underlying philosophy, which means they can be quite rigid or narrow-minded in their approach as they’re often following quite strict guidelines based on (hopefully the latest) evidence.
  • They also receive very little “hands-on” manual therapy training during their studies, which means unless they’ve taken additional courses they’re often quite limited in this area.

CHIROPRACTORS:

  • They are the experts in spinal manipulation and will often be the first point of contact for people suffering from neck or back pain. 
  • Their practice often revolves around that style of treatment and unfortunately will often also include clients having unnecessary exposure to X-rays when they are not clinically indicated.
  • Typically have minimal training in exercise and rehab prescription unless they have undergone additional training post-degree. 
  • The underlying “sublaxation” philosophy of treatment (where they state that spinal misalignments can cause many forms of disease) has been debunked by science over the past few decades. 

OSTEOPATHS:

  • They are the experts in thinking “holistically” which is heavily rooted in the underlying philosophy that the “body is a unit” and no system operates in isolation. 
  • Often very “hands-on” or manual therapy-based, with limited knowledge of exercise and rehab.
  • The outside-the-box thinking or holistic approach can often lead to osteopaths being seen as alternative and not aligned with more traditional or evidence-based approaches to medicine.

 

HOW DOES THE GENERAL PUBLIC SEE THEM?

  • The Physio gives me exercises.
  • The Chiro cracks my back.
  • The Osteo kind of does everything? (but nothing in particular).

The Physio and Chiro professions appear to be attached to something they do (treatment styles) whilst the Osteos are attached to a way they think (holistic approach). Perhaps that’s why Osteopaths are typically less known. It’s easier (at least from a marketing perspective) to advertise or describe things you do, rather than a way you think. But that’s just me speculating!

What Are The Real Differences Between Them?

The assumption has always been that the professions are all very different, with different techniques and skill sets. But is that really the case..? The real difference comes between practitioners, not professions.

The truth is, they are more alike than some would like to admit.

It’s important to note that “Osteo”, “Physio” and “Chiro” are simply titles, they don’t describe specific treatments or treatment styles. Each profession is qualified to diagnose, manage, treat and help prevent musculoskeletal conditions. 

In the modern age of evidence-informed medicine, you’ll start noticing that the best practitioners will practice in a very similar way. The secret is out! Gone are the days when a 5-10 minute appointment for a quick “adjustment” is considered acceptable healthcare.

With ongoing access to further education, Physios can crack backs, Osteos can work in professional sporting environments and Chiros can give you expert exercise rehab programs… if they want to. It is well within their scope of practice if they’ve undergone further qualifications and upskilling in those areas. 

Now that is not to say that every practitioner is the same across the professions. Some clinics will definitely prefer to stick with what is considered more “traditional” approaches for their professions. But the reality is that the lines between professions get blurred more each year. 

My advice to you is this: Choose the practitioner, not the profession. Because a person’s title no longer tells you much about how they practice or what sort of clinician or treatment you’re in for.

What Makes A Great Practitioner?

You’re probably reading this and thinking “Thanks Matt, not only do I still have no idea which practitioner is right for me, but it sounds like you’ve increased my burden of choice!” (sorry). 

Let’s talk about what makes a great practitioner in 2023 (in my opinion, of course):

  • They listen, acknowledge, empathise and reassure.

  • They build up confidence, not fear. You should never walk out feeling “more broken” than when you first walked into the clinic.

  • US-based Chiropractor Craig Leibenson says the job of the clinician is to “give people tangible hope and an achievable plan” (fantastic business tagline for his clinic LA Sports & Spine). You’re already most likely in pain, you’re already worried about what that means. The health practitioner’s job isn’t to stack even more burden on top of what you’re already going through.

  • They encourage you to ask questions and make sure you’re involved in the decision-making process.

  • They focus on getting you off the table and back to doing the things you love most.

6 Questions To Ask Yourself To Make Sure You're Seeing The Right Health Pro...

  1. Have they actually asked about your goals and what you want the outcome to be?
  2. Have they considered your overall health, social situation and hobbies to create a treatment plan that’s suited to your lifestyle as well as your goals?
  3. Are they educating you on the importance of “self-managing” your aches and pains?
  4. Do they encourage you to participate in exercise and physical activity?
  5. Have they helped you come up with a plan of attack for future “flare-ups”..?
  6. Are they actively working WITH you..? Or do they just work ON you?

3 Secret Ingredients To Success!

Did you know that we actually know what the three key ingredients to “clinical success” or positive health outcomes are? If you have an internal locus of control, a growth mindset and grit you are more likely to have success.

What this basically means is that you are more likely to succeed if you believe you have some level of control over your situation, which improves your mindset and boosts optimism during a difficult time. “Grit” is harder to describe. It’s a combination of passion (think goals, motivation and consistent direction) and perseverance (think resilience and stick-to-it-ness).

The Promise Of A "Quick Fix"

The “quick-fix” mentality unfortunately leaves people disappointed with results and keeps them stuck in the vicious cycle of jumping from treatment to treatment, practitioner to practitioner in search of the one who can actually provide this promised quick resolution. 

If the practitioners promise to “fix” something, not only does that imply that something is wrong (often very normal things get over-medicalised), but it puts them up on a pedestal and makes them the heroes coming to save the day. 

The 3 secret ingredients for a successful outcome are all within you. Remember that. A great practitioner is aware that YOU are the hero. You are Batman. We are Alfred, guiding by the side and giving you the tools you need to achieve the outcome you’re after.

How To Find Your Alfred

There are two main things to touch on here: Where to find them and how to make the final decision.

Where to find them:

  • Even in the internet age, one of the best tools available is still “word of mouth”. Ask a family member, friend, colleague etc if they’ve had a great experience with a practitioner. Ideally, they would have had a similar issue to you, so you know the clinician can handle your complaint.

     

  • Google reviews. Now when a service is regulated by AHPRA, they are not legally allowed to post testimonials on their website, social etc. However, as Google is a third-party platform that they do not have control over (ie. they can’t delete them), you can still find information here.

     

Additional options such as; community group pages, websites like HealthEngine, HotDoc etc or even contacting your private health insurance company and seeing if they have a list of preferred providers in your area.

How to pick the right one:

  • This can be as simple as word of mouth, Google reviews or checking out their website or social media platform. By seeing what sorts of things they put online you can get insight into their professionalism, personality, areas of interest or their treatment styles. Perhaps they’ve even got a lot of free content on their website about the exact reason you’re looking to book!

  • Some other considerations might be things like; appointment lengths, do they have availabilities when it suits you and appointment costs. General rule: don’t base your decision based solely on price alone, you will typically get what you pay for.

  • If you’re still not sure – ASK! Most clinics will have a reception staff member happy to answer any questions or if you’re like us, you can actually book a free call just to ask any questions you might have before you even book in.

Do You Need Help Making A Decision?

If you’re struggling to decide who is best qualified to help you – we’re happy to chat.

We have absolutely zero interest in telling every single client we’re perfect for them because we’re not. Nobody benefits from that situation. We both end up feeling disappointed.

If we feel like we have a solution for you, we’ll discuss what that looks like. If not, we’ll be able to point you in the right direction to somebody better suited to your needs.

You can book a call by clicking HERE

Learn Something? Join Our Newsletter For More