I routinely receive questions about functional medicine. People ask me what we do, how much it costs, and how we practice. Ultimately, what they’re asking is: Is functional medicine right for me? Is this going to be a good fit? In this post, I’d like to discuss that by answering some questions that I hear most frequently.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional Medicine is personalized medicine. We use a whole-person approach and the most up-to-date scientific evidence and literature. What does it mean for this kind of approach to be truly 100% personalized? It means that we take your past history, family history, health history, genetics, nutrition, lifestyle, physical health, lab data, even where you’ve lived – all the factors that make you you – into account when considering how these things have affected your health trajectory. Then we apply all of that data, along with the health information currently in the literature, to the individual. You can see how this can be a complex process. This type of medicine looks at the whole body and all your systems. It’s not a disease-based approach or a symptom-based approach, but a whole-person approach.
Functional Medicine Takes Time
Functional medicine takes a lot of cognitive and investigative work. FM practitioners are like the the Sherlock Holmes of medicine. They’re the Dr. House, if you will, figuring out the missing links and connecting the dots. For this reason, instead of typical 10-12 minute office visit, my intake is two hours. The follow up is 45 minutes to an hour and additional follow-ups after that are generally 30 to 45 minutes.
True healing also takes time. While using a pharmaceutical to address symptoms can sometimes be a quick solution, the true healing that a functional medicine practitioner pursues usually takes much more time. My patients have to be more patient, trust the process, and take each step in turn. My most successful patients change their mindset from one of symptom resolution to that of addressing root causes and supporting the body in its natural ability to heal.
Is Functional Medicine Right for You?
If you’re looking for a whole-person approach, this is for you. If you’re trying to get to the root cause of your health issues, functional medicine is for you. If you’re willing to make hard changes to alter your health trajectory, this is for you. If you’re willing to change your diet, lifestyle, sleep patterns, stress management, even some toxic relationships, then this kind of medicine is for you.
The fact that this kind of medicine takes more time and skill also usually means that it comes at a higher financial cost to the patient. This is mainly because it’s not recognized by the current healthcare insurance model that’s based merely on symptoms and diagnoses with surgical procedures and medication treatments. The current insurance-based model is not a root-cause approach, but a symptom and disease-based approach, which sometimes are complimentary but many times are diametrically opposed.
Who is NOT a Good Fit for Functional Medicine?
If you’re looking for a quick fix to your underlying symptoms and illness, functional medicine is not a good fit for you. There are no quick fixes in personalized medicine. If you’re someone who likes to challenge and question everything and has a need to always be in control, functional medicine is not a good fit.
Functional medicine includes environmental medicine, toxicology, nutritional medicine, as well as the typical medical specialties all combined into one field of practice. A typical functional medicne physician, like myself, in addition to four years of college, four years of medical school, and three years of residency training, has an additional two years of certification training, and another two to three years to fellowship training. There’s really no way to reproduce this kind of learning without actually going through the training.
If you feel the need to be in the driver’s seat, making medication decisions or higher treatment determinations, functional medicine is likely not a good fit. FM works best with a true doctor-patient relationship, where we come together and make decisions in a cooperative way. This key functional medicine doctor-patient relationship can’t be patriarchal on the side of the doctor, and it also can’t be dominated by the patient. Both sides need to listen to each other and work together to get to real health change.
This kind of medicine is likely not for you if you’re not willing to move on from your past healthcare experiences. It takes work to move on from negative doctor experiences in the past, bad diagnoses, and difficult outcomes. Those patients who are willing to make the hard changes to move forward with a new health team have the best outcomes.
One of the things I commonly see is a certain degree of medical trauma or other health-based trauma. About a quarter to a third of all patients that functional medicine practitioners see will have some kind of trauma, whether it is their own personal past trauma, the trauma from an illness, or the trauma from just dealing with the healthcare system. This is real and I see it every day. Someone who is going to work with a functional medicine practitioner needs to be willing to work through this difficult, messy, dirty work and move forward. This is the route to true change in your health and your personal wellness.
How is Functional Medicine Different from Concierge Medicine?
Functional medicine is not concierge medicine. I’ve had patients that expected to have their physician’s cell phone number, or to be able to call the office and talk to a provider within 5 to 10 minutes. In a consumer-driven healthcare model, patients get the type of care they want, how and when they want it. Concierge practices are where that happens. That can be a great fit for some people and under certain circumstances, but that is not functional medicine. In functional medicine, we’re trying to get to the root cause of illness and deal with serious issues and that require cooperation from both sides. Functional Medicine is true patient-centered medicine, not consumer-driven medicine. That’s a very important distinction.
One of the often misconstrued ideas that arrives from this consumer-driven thinking about healthcare is that the patient is paying for access to the physician. That is 100% not the case. In functional medicine, the patient is paying for time. Time with a person who will listen to them. Time with a physician who has training and expertise. Time for a physician to review their labs, consider their history, and talk with specialists. Time to review information and converse and, ultimately, time to apply the mass of their knowledge base to the individual.
Our current healthcare system is largely procedure-based. Procedures make our mainstream health system system go forward. That’s the reason that 75% of the physicians in America are specialists. It should be the opposite, like in the European system, where 75% of physicians are primary care specialists.
Most FM practitioners are drawn to functional medicine because they have a personal story. They experienced a personal hardship, or someone close to them became very sick and they’ve had to work through the system. And now they’re taking that experience, along with their training and knowledge, and using it to help other people work through the same thing.
Just as not everyone needs their own rheumatologists, cardiologist, or endocrinologist, not everyone needs their own personal functional medicine specialist. Functional medicine is not the right fit for everyone, but for many it can transform their health and lives.
If you have more questions about functional medicine and whether it’s right for you, please reply to this blog via social media. Part of our mission is to answer those questions and help guide you through the process of figuring out if functional medicine is right for you.
Take care and be well.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
Don’t Miss Out
Sign up for our newsletter and be the first to know when Dr. Hartman posts a new article.