Physicians and nurse practitioners who embrace Functional Medicine generally do so either because they have found that “conventional” medicine fails to provide answers to certain health-related questions, or because they graduated from one or more schools that focus on this approach. If your wellness team includes a primary healthcare provider who embraces functional medicine, you may expect lab tests that focus on both prevention as well as diagnosis of existing issues. You may also expect that your presenting “symptoms” will generally not be approached by a “take this pill and call me in the morning” response. Rather, you will likely be asked more than one question surrounding whatever “complaint” you bring to the office during that visit.
The types of tests ordered include the “regular” (conventional) blood tests, such as those that measure red blood cell count, white blood count, cholesterol, and so on. In addition to these, the functional medical provider may order tests that focus on more specific breakdowns of these and other indicators. The goal is to measure how well the various organ systems are working. Specifically, laboratory tests often look for indications of inflammation, measures of hormones from different glands, levels of enzymes or heavy metals, and other markers to help patients heal using non-invasive interventions, if possible.
The laboratory tests are not limited to blood or urine. They may require samples from hair, nails, saliva, or skin. Functional medicine providers respect the human body as a large living organism – a harmonious blend of several separate but integrated organ systems, each impacting the other in concert with microorganisms (including bacteria and fungus) in a delicate balance.
You may expect your functional medicine provider to (a) answer your questions, offer clarification, and double-check to be certain you are on the same page regarding the wellness journey you wish to take; (b) help build a wellness team with you, recognizing that the mind, body, and spirit all require attention. The focus of care and intervention is always on how the patient’s path may be impacted by current or future steps the patient may choose to take. Functional medicine providers partner with other licensed, certified health professionals to assist each shared patient along the patient’s unique healing journey.
Choosing the Best Provider for My Care
Individuals who prefer to be given directions and orders, who don’t need to ask questions, and who feel more comfortable with a provider who tells them what to do, with little or no discussion, often do very well with conventional medical physicians (MDs). The types of patients who do well with functional medicine providers are those who seek to understand (a) why they feel a certain way; (b) what’s behind particular symptoms; and (c) how they can facilitate their own wellness journey. Those who want to take a more active role in learning about how to make lifestyle choices (particularly regarding food, sleep, and exercise) that impact their quality and length of life also tend to do well with functional medicine providers.
Among the credentials that suggest a professional is licensed in an area of healthcare that embraces a functional medicine approach would be a Naturopathic Doctor (ND), Doctor of Osteopathy (DO), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – however, you need to ask specifically “Does your practice focus on a systems-based or a symptoms-based approach?” Functional medicine providers will offer an answer that includes terms such as “systems-based,” “evidence-based,” and “patient-centered.” In addition, they will be willing to take time to answer this as well as additional questions you might have.
If you are (a) comfortable with and feel heard by your primary healthcare provider; (b) satisfied with your level of energy, mood, sleep pattern, current weight – and/or feel your concerns are appropriately addressed by the provider/team you have in place, then you are all set. If, however, you feel a need to broaden your wellness team to include professionals to balance your mind/body/spirit approach, help is available. There are professionals throughout the Hudson Valley and Connecticut who may be able to help you.
No matter what type of healthcare provider you feel most comfortable with, trust and respect are the key factors. As a nurse practitioner who embraces a functional medicine approach, my bias regarding the value of a patient-centered, mind/ body/spirit and team-based approach is revealed throughout this column. Thanks for taking time to read this column. I invite all questions and comments via email. Here’s to your wellness and continuing, healing journey!
Dr. Nancy Iankowitz is a board certified family nurse practitioner and Director of Holistic and Integrative Healing LLC. She is also host of “Marcy’s World”on Pawling Public Radio. Email your questions and comments to: email@example.com. For more information, call (917) 716-6802, or visit www.driankowitz.com online.