Working with a team of different healthcare professionals can be a great way to maintain or improve your wellness. But sometimes, when we decide to incorporate a Functional Medicine approach into our healthcare, it can feel difficult to communicate our goals and gain support from our conventional medicine providers.
Let’s start with some basics. What do I mean when I say conventional medicine? Typically “conventional”, “Western”, “traditional” or “allopathic” medicine is used to describe the type of medicine practiced by most medical doctors (MD), pharmacists (PharmD), nurse practitioners (NP), and registered dietitians (RDs), etc.. It encompasses the care that the majority of us are accustomed to receiving.
The general philosophy driving conventional medicine is that the symptoms that we experience should be treated reactively utilizing tools such as pharmaceuticals, surgery, etc. Perhaps this is why conventional medicine is described as exceling at treating acute issues, but as ill-equipped to respond to chronic disease.
Functional Medicine is a root-cause, evidence-based approach that sees symptoms as “clues”, so to speak. Rather than responding reactively to symptoms, it takes a more up-stream and proactive approach to wellness.
I’m not sure who to credit this quote to, but I once heard the difference between conventional and Functional Medicine described like this: If I have a broken leg, I want to be taken to an emergency room for acute, conventional medicine care. If I have an autoimmune disease, I want to be taken to a Functional Medicine provider to uncover and resolve the hidden sources of inflammation that are contributing to my immune dysregulation. We need both conventional and Functional Medicine providers utilizing an evidence-based approach to help us feel our best.
Choosing which professionals to work with on your health is a personal and sometimes complex decision. Working exclusively with a Functional Medicine practitioner is certainly a choice that a growing number of people are making. However, there are often factors such as geography or finances that limit an individual’s access to Functional Medicine providers. Functional Medicine care is typically not covered by health insurance (although there are exceptions) and often clinics providing this care are cash-based, meaning that patients are responsible for paying 100% of the costs out-of-pocket. Costs may include office visits, phone consults, laboratory testing, supplements, etc. and can sometimes be inaccessible to those with limited finances.
To help make Functional Medicine more affordable and accessible, some people may choose to take a “combination approach” to their wellness – relying on both conventional and Functional Medicine practitioners to support them in achieving their wellness goals. This can help reduce some of the expenses associated with Functional Medicine care. For example, it may help reduce a patient’s out-of-pocket expenses for laboratory tests by allowing them to access standard lab tests through their primary care provider which may be more likely to be covered by health insurance.
As important as it is to work with providers who are willing to collaborate directly with one another, you’ll likely still find yourself relaying communication between your conventional and Functional Medicine providers. This can sometimes be challenging, especially when it comes to conveying your desire to take a more Functional Medicine approach to your conventional healthcare provider. Many times they are not familiar with Functional Medicine as a whole and may not immediately understand why you’d like to incorporate care outside the conventional medicine model.
Before we get into my tips for partnering with your conventional medicine doctor on Functional Medicine care, it’s important to remember that just because a conventional healthcare provider may find it challenging to understand an approach that’s different than the one they were trained to use, that does not mean that they aren’t skilled or knowledgeable or that they don’t care about your health – because they do!
Check out my top communication tips to help build a strong rapport with your conventional medicine provider and advocate for your health effectively.
9 Tips for Partnering with Your Doctor on Functional Medicine Care
- Prepare ahead of time. Before you have your appointment, prepare notes that will help you bring your provider up to speed on what’s going on with your health.
- Build rapport. Making a connection with your doctor or other healthcare provider can be helpful when partnering with them on your health. Small talk, finding common interests, complimenting them (“I really appreciate your dedication to your patients”), and using open ended questions (“What makes you passionate about practicing medicine?”) can be helpful in building rapport with your doctor. Just remember to be respectful of their time as they might not have the scheduling flexibility to chat for very long.
- Openly express your goals. Being clear in what you hope to accomplish with your health can be helpful to give your doctor a better idea of your unique goals. Something as simple as, “I want to be as healthy as I can and take a proactive approach to wellness” can do a lot to get both of you on the same page and build open communication.
- Anticipate objections. A common objection I hear is that someone’s doctor does not want to order them the labs tests that they want because they don’t see the value in learning this information. I’ve seen this happen quite a bit when client’s have requested a full thyroid panel and not just thyroid stimulating (TSH) alone. Considering which requests your doctor may have resistance to can help you to prepare your response. Try explaining why this information would be valuable to you, “I understand that you don’t typically order “X” tests, but it’s really important to me to have this information about my health.” (PS I haven’t tried this myself if your healthcare provider isn’t willing to order you one of the labs that you would like, it might be useful to ask them to provide you with a written letter explaining why they are refusing to order you the test.)
- Take a deep breath. Inhale, exhale. Talk a little slower. Keep calm.
- Share your feelings. If you’re struggling to have productive communication with your doctor, try sharing how they are making you feel.
- Bring an ally. Sometimes bringing a buddy can help boost your confidence and make you feel more comfortable expressing yourself.
- Get your healthcare providers to communicate directly. Quality clinicians (be they based in conventional or Functional medicine) should be willing to collaborate on their patient’s health and confer (where appropriate) on their treatment approaches. Some doctors may find it helpful to hear the explanation of tests or interventions directly from your Functional medicine provider.
- It might be time to move on. Remember, your doctor works for you. If you can’t get your doctor to cooperate in your treatment the way you want, you may need to consider looking for another doctor.