Background: Clinical reasoning has been described as a process that draws heavily on the knowledge, skills and attributes that are particular to each health profession. However, the clinical reasoning processes of practitioners of different disciplines demonstrate many similarities, including hypothesis generation and reflective practice. The aim of this study was to understand clinical reasoning in osteopathy from the perspective of osteopathic clinical educators and the extent to which it was similar or different from clinical reasoning in other health professions.
Methods: This study was informed by constructivist grounded theory. Participants were clinical educators in osteopathic teaching institutions in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Focus groups and written critical reflections provided a rich data set. Data were analysed using constant comparison to develop inductive categories.
Results: According to participants, clinical reasoning in osteopathy is different from clinical reasoning in other health professions. Osteopaths use a two-phase approach: an initial biomedical screen for serious pathology, followed by use of osteopathic reasoning models that are based on the relationship between structure and function in the human body. Clinical reasoning in osteopathy was also described as occurring in a number of contexts (e.g. patient, practitioner and community) and drawing on a range of metaskills (e.g. hypothesis generation and reflexivity) that have been described in other health professions.
Conclusions: The use of diagnostic reasoning models that are based on the relationship between structure and function in the human body differentiated clinical reasoning in osteopathy. These models were not used to name a medical condition but rather to guide the selection of treatment approaches. If confirmed by further research that clinical reasoning in osteopathy is distinct from clinical reasoning in other health professions, then osteopaths may have a unique perspective to bring to multidisciplinary decision-making and potentially enhance the quality of patient care.
Where commonalities exist in the clinical reasoning processes of osteopathy and other health professions, shared learning opportunities may be available, including the exchange of scaffolded clinical reasoning exercises and assessment practices among health disciplines.