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What’s the Difference Between Functional Medicine Doctors and Conventional Doctors?
Conventional medicine is great for many things. Have a broken bone? Need open heart surgery? How about a prescription for that “Delhi Belly” you got while traveling in India? See your conventional medicine doctor. These doctors are often specialists and know exactly how to address symptoms with surgery or drugs.
From high blood pressure to depression to erectile dysfunction, it seems like there’s a pill for just about any ailment these days. And yes, that is an extraordinarily positive accomplishment of modern medicine. But just because “there’s a pill for that”, doesn’t mean that the underlying problem is easily solved. With an average patient meeting lasting only 8 to 12 minutes, today’s medical professionals are quick to recommend going under the knife or popping a powerful narcotic. Unfortunately, there is often little effort to figure out the root cause of what is causing those symptoms in the first place. That’s where functional medicine comes in.
Functional medicine doctors aim to heal the underlying dysfunctions responsible for causing a condition instead of simply masking its symptoms. Often referred to as integrative medicine, the focus is on the entire health of a patient and treating them as an individual. This type of holistic approach leads to profound results that solve the problem at the source. According to Dr. Claudia Karam of Hattiesburg Clinic Functional & Integrative Medicine in Mississippi, “functional medicine is the medicine of why. Why is it that you have your current set of health issues?” During a typical visit to a conventional doctor, the patient describes a symptom and the doctor prescribes a medication to make that symptom go away. Unfortunately, the path of physiology is rarely identified, leading to a failure to reverse the symptom’s cause. By digging deeper and identifying the “why”, functional medicine doctors treat the root of the illness, thereby reversing the disease and restoring health.
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What are the Benefits of Having a Functional Medicine Doctor?
One of the many advantages of functional medicine is that it is personalized for each individual patient. Initial visits span from 45 minutes to an hour so that the doctor can learn about the multitude of factors impacting your health. Instead of writing a prescription for Xanax for anxiety, a functional medicine doctor will evaluate everything that helps to paint the overall picture of one’s well-being: family history, genetic predispositions, nutrition habits, exercise routines, and psychosocial factors to name a few. According to Dr. Karam, recognizing that these components are interconnected parts of the whole allows functional medicine practitioners to create “a personalized game plan best suited for your health needs”.
In addition to being patient-centered and holistic, a functional medicine approach often entails a combination of both modern and traditional medicines. This means incorporating herbal remedies and emphasizing the importance of diet and lifestyle. Having trouble sleeping? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in what and when you're eating, your daily output of physical activity, morning and nighttime routines, or external stressors. Instead of reaching for the Rx pad and scribbling out a script for Ambien, a functional medicine doctor will take the time to investigate and evaluate. Alternative interventions might include simple lifestyle changes like consistently waking up and going to bed at the same time, cutting caffeine and processed foods after noon, committing to a daily mile-long walk, and winding down with an all-natural kava spray in the evening. These small changes are safe, inexpensive, and can have a meaningful impact if implemented with intention. There is a time and place for prescriptions but when other all-natural options present themselves, why not try those first?
It’s important to note that the inclusion of alternative treatments does not mean that functional medicine doctors are any less credentialed, trained, or educated than conventional doctors. They rely on the latest scientific research from peer-reviewed medical studies to make evidence-based decisions. Where they differ is in their approach. Instead of focusing on merely preventing death and managing disease, functional medicine aims to “promote optimal function, prevent and reverse disease, and improve quality of life”.
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How Can I Find A Good Functional Medicine Practitioner Near Me?
So you’ve decided to take a holistic approach to health management and want to find a trusted functional medicine doctor near you. You can call your insurance provider and ask for a referral in your network, but it’s unlikely that they will be able to delineate between conventional and functional practitioners. Fortunately, the internet has several trusted websites that will help you narrow down your search. Here are three easy steps for finding a trusted functional medicine doctor near you:
1. Resources for searching for a functional medicine doctor online:
The Institute for Functional Medicine: The IFM is “ the largest referral network in Functional Medicine” in the world, connecting patients with integrative practitioners around the world. The network is extensive, yet exclusive. To be part of the IFM, doctors must be registered members, have attended a training course, and be currently applying a functional approach to medicine within their healthcare practice.
Paleo Physicians Network: When people use the term “paleo” these days, they’re often referring to a diet of whole foods similar to what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. However, the paleo movement has expanded to include the broader concept of “ancestral living”, which incorporates natural movement, exposure to nature and stress remediation strategies in addition to the nutrition piece. These doctors practice functional medicine through a similar scope taking hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution into consideration.
Re-Find Health: According to their website, Re-find is a network of real world physicians and healthcare professionals that practice in a space between ancestral health, functional medicine, and lifestyle medicine.
American College for Advancement in Medicine: ACAM aims to make the process of connecting patients with reputable, local integrative physicians. Simply choose the desired specialty of physician and enter your search radius and they will give you a list of your best local functional medicine doctors.
2. Contact your insurance provider.
Your insurance company may not be much help when it comes to locating a functional medicine doctor near you. Still, after finding a doctor that you’d like schedule a visit with, it is always important to verify a few things with your insurance company before making the appointment. Is the doctor part of your network? If so, your insurance should cover the costs just as they would with a visit to a conventional doctor. If not, you could wind up with a costly bill. A quick call will ensure coverage and that the doctor is a valid, current healthcare practitioner.
3. Do some research:
You’ve found a functional doc near you and your insurance company has verified that he or she in your network. Before scheduling your initial visit, try to check online reviews on sites like https://www.zocdoc.com/ just to get an idea of what other patients think. Just because a doctor is certified doesn’t mean they are the best choice. Quickly scan reviews of other patients to get an idea of how he or she interacts with the patients, how long a typical visit lasts, and how effective patients feel their treatment has been.
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As stated, conventional medicine has its faults, but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Choosing optimal healthcare isn’t about picking sides, it’s about finding balance. Functional medicine certainly isn’t perfect either. While it is an evidence-based and research-backed practice, there will always be quacks out there and it’s important to be aware. Some key characteristics to look for in a good doctor include: recommendations pertaining to the overall health of the individual and their lifestyle (nutrition, sleep, activity), treating the individual as a partner in health (not merely a patient), providing adequate time and attention at each visit, and focusing on healing and restoring the body with science-based methods. Conversely, red flags should be raised if the doctor starts promising fast-acting curealls, tries to sell expensive supplements and detox regimens, or prescribes outlandish recommendations. Just because you drink coconut water and do yoga every morning doesn’t make you immune to disease.
Functional Medicine Is The Future Of Healthcare
Functional medicine is often called the medicine of the future due to its all inclusive approach to treating patients as individuals, integrating a holistic treatment protocol, and addressing the root cause instead of the symptom. That doesn’t mean that conventional medicine is bad but rather that it may be limited in scope in comparison. Thanks to technology that allows us to search for local practitioners and research their reputability, finding an integrative doc is easier than ever.
If you’ve already incorporated functional medicine into your healthcare routine, what advice can you offer the Innovative Lifestyles community? Comment below.