Introduction: There is significant interest in allied health and the role it plays in healthcare for rural and remote populations. In Australia, osteopaths are allied health professionals who manage predominantly musculoskeletal complaints using manual therapy, exercise, and patient education. Workforce distribution is a significant issue for osteopathy in Australia with most practitioners centred in the metropolitan regions of Victoria and New South Wales. There is limited evidence about the role osteopathy plays in the musculoskeletal health of Australian rural and remote populations. This research sought to profile the characteristics of Australian osteopaths who practise in rural and remote settings.
Methods: A secondary analysis of the Osteopathy Research and Innovation Network (ORION) data was undertaken to identify the demographic, practice, and clinical management characteristics of Australian osteopaths in rural and remote settings. ORION is a practice-based research network for the Australian osteopathy profession. The ORION questionnaire comprised 27-items regarding osteopaths characteristics. Inferential statistics were used to identify characteristics that were significantly different between Australian osteopaths practising in rural and remote settings compared to those practising in urban settings. Logistic regression was used to calculate adjusted odds ratios (AOR) relating to characteristics significantly associated with practising in a rural and remote setting.
Results: Of 992 osteopaths who responded to the ORION questionnaire, 18.3% (n=172) indicated practising in a rural and remote setting. Australian osteopaths in rural and remote settings were more likely to report receiving referrals from massage therapists (AOR2.17), send referrals to other osteopaths (AOR1.64), and often treat patients over the age of 65 years (AOR 2.25) compared to their urban counterparts. Osteopaths in rural and remote setting were less likely to report using private health insurance claim systems (AOR 0.36) and to treat non-English speaking patients (AOR 0.09).
Conclusion: This secondary analysis identified several practitioner and practice characteristics which differ between osteopaths practising in rural and remote settings and those practising in urban settings. These findings contribute to the emerging picture of the practice of rural and remote Australian osteopaths. Further research is required to understand the role osteopaths play in rural and remote health care, and how the current data can inform workforce and health policy development.