What Makes a Great Functional Medicine Doctor?
Every patient I see is unique. Biochemistry and genetic makeup are different for us all and functional medicine accounts for that. Instead of treating the disease, functional medicine treats the individual with personalized health care by calling on the body’s natural ability to self-heal.
Rooted in science, functional medicine draws on the most current research illustrating the how interconnected our body’s systems are. The web is so complicated that a dysfunction in one are of the body can easily set off a domino effect of complications within other systems. But the body is astute and innately knows how to self-regulate, keeping all body systems in check and in balance. Even when out of balance, the body has the capability to heal and thwart diseases associated with aging.
Being healthy doesn’t mean being free of disease; it is defined by the dynamic functioning of all body systems in harmony and vibrant vitality. This is the balance functional medicine helps the patient achieve.
First of all, expect to spend more time thoroughly discussing the details of your health history. You’ll likely do a lot of talking, and your doctor will do a lot of listening. This may seem counter to many of your past medical visits! The circumstances surrounding symptom flare ups, past medical diagnoses and treatment plans, genetics, as well as everyday lifestyle, diet, and physical activity are all essential pieces of the puzzle. The information and wisdom you, as the patient, provide me (as the doctor) is crucial in resolving the issue, not the other way around!
Here are some factors we’ll discuss:
- mental well being
- spiritual health
- social support / stress
- physical activity
- daily nutrition
This helps me to understand you as a whole person in many contexts, not just isolating the physical symptoms. Though it’s important to note that physical symptoms or visible signs on the surface of the body can also be a revealing window into what’s going on inside your body too. Sometimes a physical examination or submitting samples for laboratory testing can lend clarity or help confirm a suspected issue.
1. You are the central focus in Functional Medicine
The doctor-patient relationship is personalized and patient-centered. The patient plays an active role in developing and implementing a treatment plan with the support of his or her doctor. This plan is focused on enhancing health, not just covering up symptoms, so ideally a drug-free plan is the first course of action to restore overall wellness. The whole person—body, mind, and spirt—is accounted for.
2. The Person is treated (who happens to have a disease), rather than treating the disease that a person has.
This is not just semantics, this is central to the philosophy of functional medicine. Proper care involves time, empathy, patience, and a commitment to true healing over time. A disease can present itself very differently in each patient and will affect each individual in a unique way. Therefore there can’t be one line of treatment that will be 100% effective for everyone. Uncovering triggers, developing individualized healing paths, and giving patients the tools to take back their health is the primary goal in functional medicine.
3. Functional Medicine is not pre-programmed or automated
Today’s health care system can feel overwhelming and institute driven, rather than patient focused. Sometimes it seems like we are given a number, asked to stand in line, and quickly moved through the system’s checklist of health”care”. The extra attention to details and individual circumstances are often overlooked. This is not the case with functional medicine! A more comprehensive and thoughtful attitude is taken with patient care. You can think of it as the treatment you’d get from your local “mom and pop” neighborhood store, rather than the nationwide chain at the strip mall.
4. Honoring the best of both medical worlds
Functional medicine does not completely replace or stand alone from conventional treatment. Instead it’s a ideal combination of traditional practices with an alternative and therapeutic outlook. It explores treatments outside of contracts with pharmaceutical companies and focuses on long-term quality of life as the goal. Patients are encouraged to consider their whole being: components of diet, physical activity, supplementation, stress management, and social well being.
5. Transformation is the mission
Using Functional Medicine to uncover the imbalances or dysfunctions, allows a space for transformation to take place. As the doctor, I can help reveal these root causes but the most rewarding part of this practice is seeing the patient do the work to restore the balance and vitality in their own lives. It can be a slow transition back to wellness but certainly there is a lot of joy and self-discovery in the process.
6. Functional Medicine means caring for health, not taking care of a disease.
Incorporating lifestyle care techniques allows patients to take care of their overall wellness. Whole nutrition is one component that can be employed multiple times a day, every single day. The same can be said for stress reduction tools and choosing supplements that support healthy functioning of our body’s many functioning systems. Healing from disease, preventing the development of future illness, and sustaining a vibrant, vital life is the positive direction of Functional Medicine
So what makes a great Functional Medicine Doctor?
Convention medicine asks: “What pharmaceutical drug is a match for the disease?”
Functional medicine asks: “Why is this problem surfacing in the patient? Why has the body’s function in this area been lost and how can we work to restore it?”
Functional medicine strives to uncover the actual cause or trigger involved with any loss of function. When the root cause can be pinpointed, then there is a better understanding of why the symptoms are occurring in the first place. It’s important that I spend a lot of time with each patient listening to their health history, genetics, symptoms, lifestyle choices, and general concerns. I believe this is the most effective way to gather all the information necessary to treat someone dealing with illness, especially if those concerns have been chronic and unresolved through conventional treatment.
Questions to ask your Functional Medicine Practitioner:
- Can you describe how you apply functional medicine to your practice?
- Have you treated others with my condition?
- Can you give me some examples of the main treatments you use? i.e.: dietary changes, supplements, hormone replacement, stress management, etc.
- Do you use diagnostic tools or lab tests with patients? Are there are other assessment tools you rely upon to help with diagnosis?