While conventional medicine is effective for acute conditions, such as a broken arm or heart attack, some people find it inadequate against chronic diseases. Where conventional medicine has failed to resolve your health problems, functional medicine rises to the challenge.
As an integrative, science-based, holistic approach, functional medicine addresses the root causes of illnesses. That means it not only improves chronic symptoms but also prevents future illness-related problems . The end result is a better quality of life.
Bear in mind that not all functional practitioners are right for you. This article shares what the best functional medicine doctors have in common and how to find the right physician for your unique health needs.
8 Traits the Best Functional Medicine Doctors Have in Common
Many functional medicine doctors are available, but it can be overwhelming to sift through them. That’s why it’s important to know what to look for in advance. Here’s what the best functional medicine doctors have in common.
1. They Adopt a Fundamentals-up Approach
Instead of ordering countless expensive lab tests, recommending super-restrictive diets, and prescribing long lists of supplements, the best functional medicine doctors always start from the basics first.
This therapeutic hierarchy ensures that patients address the most fundamental aspects of their health first. It also saves the patient time, money, and frustration.
The best functional doctors employ lifestyle modifications and gut-directed treatments as first-line therapies. Positive lifestyle changes correct health problems caused by poor diet, insufficient sleep, high-stress environments, and physical inactivity.
Common functional remedies include:
- An anti-inflammatory diet
- Regular exercise
- Sun exposure
- Better sleep quality
- Stress management techniques, like meditation and yoga
While supplements and highly-specific lab tests have their place, these are not always effective choices until more fundamental health issues have been addressed.
For example, when it comes to thyroid health, research demonstrates a strong connection between gut and thyroid health [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. Instead of chasing complex thyroid lab tests and treatments, a fundamentals-up approach prioritizes gut treatments first.
For many thyroid patients, improvements to gut health completely resolves thyroid symptoms. For those patients who don’t see full resolution with gut-directed therapies, specific thyroid therapies may be helpful.
2. They Are Trained in Specific Medical Specialties
Functional medicine doctors may be trained in traditional medical specialties, but they use an integrative health approach to treat patients. The best functional medicine doctors are proficient in select specialties to provide medical expertise for unique health challenges of varying complexities.
For example, Dr. Michael Ruscio at Austin Functional Medicine is a functional medicine practitioner specializing in gastrointestinal and thyroid disorders. If you have IBS, you will likely benefit more from seeing Dr. Ruscio than a general practitioner.
Many non-digestive symptoms and chronic conditions, like fatigue, depression, anxiety, and fibromyalgia (widespread body pain), are associated with poor gut health [12, 13, 14]. Experienced functional GI specialists help draw the connection between the two seemingly unrelated health issues to provide relief from symptoms, such as joint pain and brain fog.
To provide top-quality medical care, the best functional medicine doctors are well-versed in current medical literature, from topics like a new insight into the gut microbiome to the outcomes of specific randomized control trials.
At Austin FM, our functional medical doctors dedicate three days per week to review and learn the best testing and treatment options available and employ the support of research assistants. As a multidisciplinary medical practice, our team continually analyzes research trends to refine the clinic’s best practices.
The result is top-notch healthcare for better patient wellness.
4. They Personalize Each Treatment Plan for Holistic Wellness
Commonly known as integrative medicine or holistic medicine, functional medicine views each patient as a whole person with unique health problems.
The best functional medicine doctors use both underlying causes and symptoms to guide the diagnosis. They design personalized treatment plans that restore function and promote overall well-being.
Our clinic’s individualized patient dashboards perfectly portray this:
- The dashboard records previous tests, diagnoses, and treatments, consistently updating our clinicians on your progress.
- The dashboard helps our team assess each treatment’s cause-and-effect to customize therapeutic interventions that work best for you.
5. They Partner With Other Healthcare Providers When Needed
Many functional treatments are rooted in dietary, behavioral, and lifestyle changes that some patients find it difficult to implement. To enhance your recovery, experienced functional medicine doctors recognize the importance of a team-based approach.
At Austin FM, our in-house health coach (a certified nutritionist) works closely with our functional medicine doctors to help you adhere to the nutritional and lifestyle aspects of your treatment plan.
6. They Prioritize a Therapeutic Doctor-Patient Relationship
A therapeutic doctor-patient relationship is a basis for improving a patient’s physical and psychological health.
Instead of rushing through your consultations, the best functional medicine doctors take the time to get to know your medical history and symptoms. Having the full picture is the foundation for creating a treatment plan personalized to your unique health condition.
Past misdiagnoses and unsuccessful treatments may have disheartened you. But the right practitioner will empathize with you and empower you, helping you regain control of your health and wellness.
7. They Are Mindful of Cost-Effective Healthcare
More is not always better. That’s why the best functional medicine doctors are cautious of overtesting and overtreatment. Instead, they practice cost-effective healthcare.
Unnecessary functional tests and dietary supplements pose high medical costs for the patient. A functional medicine doctor with your best interests at heart will only recommend specific lab tests and supplements if needed.
Another way to minimize costs is to make each patient visit worthwhile. The best functional medicine doctors do this by preparing extensively before and after each session.
For instance, our clinical guidelines involve pre-consult patient review and post-consult patient updates. Detailed and structured data organization effectively tracks your health progress without taking time away from the actual consultation.
Note: Our Austin FM team does its best to cover as much lab testing as possible under your insurance.
8. They Provide a Clear Outline of the Process
The best functional medicine doctors set clear patient expectations for every visit.
Understanding what takes place in each session allows you the consultation to focus on diagnosis and treatment.
A good example is Austin FM’s clinical process that details everything from pre-exam assessment to follow-up visits. It is especially useful if you are visiting a functional doctor for the first time.
How To Find the Best Functional Medicine Doctor
Follow these two simple steps to find the best functional medicine doctor for you.
1. Identify Your Health Needs and Personal Preferences
Firstly, inventory your health needs. The type of ailments you experience determines the doctor with the corresponding medical specialty. For example, thyroid disorders are complex and often misunderstood. Your thyroid health deserves the expertise of a thyroid specialist.
Functional medicine doctors specialize in diagnosing and treating illness. However, even if you are in good health, you can benefit from a functional medicine approach to preventative healthcare. In this case, a functionally trained health coach may be your best choice.
2. Choose a Doctor With the Right Specialty and Expertise
Choosing a doctor that specializes in your health problems is vital. To help the process, the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) has a handy directory for finding the best functional medicine doctor for your health needs.
Austin FM’s experienced medical care team specializes in:
- Digestive health issues, including IBS, IBD, SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac disease, reflux, and heartburn
- Thyroid health issues, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
- Hormone imbalances, including PCOS, menopause, and testosterone imbalance
- Chronic conditions, like autoimmune diseases and mold illness
Another way to determine if a functional practitioner is right for you is to read patient testimonials, commonly available on the clinic’s website or social media platforms. To clarify in-depth questions, email or call the medical practice.
Austin FM Can Help You Find the Best Functional Medicine Doctors
Understanding the common qualities the best practitioners possess will help you find the best functional medicine doctor for your health needs. Matching your health needs and personal preferences to the right medical specialty and proficiency further boost your odds.
If you are experiencing issues with areas such as GI, thyroid, chronic pain, or immune system problems, Austin FM’s functional medical doctors are here to help. Aside from in-person visits, our clinic also offers telemedicine services to provide quality medical care at a distance.
We work with patients from all walks of life to help them reclaim their health. Book a consultation with us so that we can help you do the same too.