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New President of American Osteopathic Association Shares Perspectives

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   July 26, 2021

Joseph Giaimo, DO, says osteopathic medicine is strong and getting stronger.

Osteopathic physicians are well-suited to rise to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the new president of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) says.

Joseph Giaimo, DO, was inaugurated as the 125th president of the AOA this month. He is board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, and sleep medicine. Giaimo has been working in private practice in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for more than 30 years.

HealthLeaders recently held a discussion with Giaimo on a range of topics, including the pandemic, the future of telehealth, and the state of osteopathic medicine. The following is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.

HealthLeaders: How is osteopathic medicine suited to treating the coronavirus pandemic?

Joseph Giaimo: Osteopathic medicine and our philosophy of the holistic approach to medicine is well-suited to COVID-19 because we emphasize a collaborative effort. COVID-19 patients do not only have a pulmonary problems, they have cardiac issues, they have hematologic issues, and they have psychological issues with neurologic problems such as brain fog and anxiety. These issues are compounded by what is going on in society—people are losing their jobs and businesses are closing. We live in a very stressful time.

In osteopathic medicine, because of the way we are trained and how we approach individuals with medical problems holistically, we have a unique perspective on these kinds of issues.

HL: What is your vision for telehealth after the coronavirus pandemic has passed?

Giaimo: There is an opportunity here to take advantage of. We have found that there are huge disparities in the healthcare system and COVID-19 has exposed those disparities. There are people who can benefit from telehealth now and in the future.

The face-to-face interactions that we have with patients are still a cornerstone for medicine moving forward. We need to interact with patients—we need to see them face-to-face. But telemedicine has a great capacity for patients who are unable to get to see a clinician in an office. So, I think telehealth is going to continue in the future, and it has improved access to care.

HL: What are the primary challenges facing physicians in this stage of the coronavirus pandemic?

Giaimo: We have gotten to the point where we have medications and protocols that are effective in the treatment of COVID-19. If we can get patients early on in their disease, that is very helpful.

We also have learned that preventive care is at the forefront of addressing the coronavirus. There are simple things like hand washing and wearing masks. And, most importantly, vaccination is key because we are seeing many people now with COVID-19 who are not vaccinated. We need to partner with our patients to make sure they have the tools that they need to stay healthy.

HL: How can physicians encourage their patients to get vaccinated?

Giaimo: It's about education; and, unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there. We need to have patients have a transparent relationship with their healthcare provider. I have been in practice for more than 30 years, and often patients will come to you to get your opinion. The role of primary care physicians is to be able to educate patients.

There is a risk of becoming critically ill with COVID-19, especially with some of the new variants. The delta variant is highly contagious. I am seeing patients who end up on ventilators and who end up with protracted hospitalizations because they are not vaccinated. So, we need to educate patients. We need to tell them this pandemic is not over, and they need to maintain their due diligence.

HL: What are the primary elements of your AOA presidency agenda?

Giaimo: It is really about coming out of where we have been over the past 18 months—coming out of a pandemic that has shut down so much. So, I am focused on uniting the profession again and having the transition from where we have been in the past 18 months to where we are going to move forward in the future. We have a lot of challenges such as fighting for appropriate scope of practice issues to make sure that osteopathic medicine can move forward.

Healthcare disparities are one of the biggest things that we are looking at as a profession. We must help address those disparities, and we are well-positioned for that effort because of our training. We have been trained in rural areas and traditionally in smaller group practices. Our practitioners tend to lean into that type of care.

HL: How is osteopathic medicine well-positioned for addressing healthcare disparities?

Giaimo: We have more than 130,000 osteopathic physicians across the country, and one out of every four medical students in the country are studying osteopathic medicine. And there is a large percentage of female physicians who are coming into our profession.

We are trying to be more reflective of the general population—we are trying to be reflective of our patients. There is no better way to care for patients than when you have physicians who are from their community—somebody who has historical knowledge and relationships in the community. Osteopathic physicians have traditionally practiced in rural and underserved areas, which is where most of the disparities are.

HL: Characterize the status of osteopathic medicine in the United States.

Giaimo: We are strong and are getting stronger. My father was an osteopathic medicine physician in primary care; and when he started his practice, people's understanding of osteopathic physicians and their training was not as mature as it is now. There is a bright future for our profession. We have a lot of young minds who are coming into the profession and a lot of wisdom among the osteopathic physicians who have been practicing for a while.

HL: What is your vision for the future of osteopathic medicine?

Giaimo: I see osteopathic medicine continuing to grow. It has a wonderful opportunity to continue to move our philosophy forward of integration and a team approach to medicine. We are team-oriented in the way that we approach problem-solving and other things because of the nature of how we are trained. A team approach to medicine is what this country needs in the future. And osteopathic medicine focuses more on the overall maintenance of health as opposed to just treating disease.

Related: American Osteopathic Association Installs New President

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Giaimo says osteopathic medicine is a good fit for COVID-19 care because it takes a holistic and team-based approach to care.

He predicts that telehealth will continue to play a significant role in healthcare because it can help address healthcare disparities and improve access to care.

Osteopathic physicians can play a leading role in addressing healthcare disparities because many of them train in rural and underserved areas of the country, Giaimo says.


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