If conventional medicine hasn’t helped you improve your health problems, it may be time to see a functional medicine doctor. You might be wondering, “What does a functional medicine doctor do?”
Whether it’s treating a chronic disease or preventing future disease, functional medicine can help you. From designing a therapeutic diet to implementing lifestyle changes through health coaching, a functional medicine doctor works closely with you as you heal.
In this article, we’ll show you how a functional medicine doctor helps you achieve optimal health.
What Is the Functional Medicine Model?
The functional medicine model strives to meet the complex healthcare needs of the 21st century through patient-centered medical care. With an integrative, science-based, holistic approach, functional medicine practitioners identify the underlying causes of disease to treat chronic health problems.
Most importantly, functional medicine knows every patient is unique in terms of their genetics, biochemistry, and healthcare needs. The interactions between internal and external factors affect long-term health and chronic diseases.
Taking time to understand a patient’s history and health problems helps functional medicine practitioners to pinpoint root causes and create a treatment plan for each individual.
What Does a Functional Medicine Doctor Do?
A functional medicine doctor does several things — from diagnosis to treatment to follow-ups — to help you improve your health.
1. Treat the Root Causes of Illness
According to The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), a chronic condition may have many causes, and a cause may lead to various chronic diseases. That’s why functional and integrative medicine focuses on addressing the root causes of your health problem rather than just the symptoms.
Unlike conventional medicine that prescribes pills for your symptoms, functional medicine practitioners avoid prescription drugs as much as possible, choosing to use natural methods to treat and prevent chronic diseases. They also look more closely at lifestyle factors that may cause your body’s dysfunctions.
For instance, an unhealthy diet and chronic stress may be the root causes of your heart disease. What does a functional medicine doctor do in this scenario? They may recommend dietary and lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and meditation to help improve your heart health.
2. Address the Whole Person
All functions and systems in your body are interconnected. That’s why functional medicine practitioners address a patient as a whole person rather than looking at different symptoms separately.
For example, if you experience thyroid issues and depression, you don’t necessarily need to see a thyroid specialist and a psychologist separately — thyroid autoimmunity is linked to depression and anxiety in several studies. And, poor gut health may be a root cause of both thyroid and mood symptoms.
As a result, functional medicine eliminates the need to visit different physicians for different symptoms, leading to more time and money saved.
Choose a functional medicine doctor licensed in treating your health problems. In the above example, look for a physician experienced in thyroid, gut, and autoimmune conditions like Dr. Michael Ruscio.
3. Order Lab Tests and Interpret Results
Some health problems have vague symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and brain fog. In this case, it may be hard to identify the exact causes behind your mystery illness. Your functional medicine doctor may suggest specific lab tests for a more accurate diagnosis.
Per the systems biology approach, functional medicine lab testing offers a unique approach to determining the underlying causes of disease. Once your test results are available, your doctor can design a treatment plan that specifically targets your health triggers.
Bear in mind that lab testing costs can quickly add up and may not be covered by insurance. However, at Austin Functional Medicine, our team uses a cost-effective approach to obtain thorough results with minimal lab testing.
Note: We also do our best to cover as much lab testing as possible under your insurance.
4. Work With Other Healthcare Providers
Firstly, if a patient is already seeking conventional medicine doctor treatment, the functional treatment may complement conventional drugs or tests. The functional medicine doctor may focus more on natural ways to boost patient recovery, thereby reducing drug use over time.
Secondly, most functional treatment plans focus on specific dietary, behavioral, and lifestyle changes. For successful patient outcomes, functional medicine physicians often work closely with health coaches and nutritionists — Austin FM has an in-house health coach to help you more easily make healthy lifestyle changes.
Thirdly, a functional medicine doctor may also refer you to other healthcare providers. For example, if a lyme infection is suspected, a lyme disease specialist can help to assess and treat this underlying condition.
5. Prioritize a Patient-Doctor Relationship
Unlike conventional medicine, functional medicine doctors take the time to get to know their patients. With a detailed understanding of your medical history, diet, lifestyle, and social relationships, your functional healthcare provider can better identify the root causes of your health issues.
At Austin FM, our physicians spend time with you to understand your health background and symptoms. Prioritizing a therapeutic patient-doctor relationship, we actively involve our patients at every stage of the healing process so you feel in control of your own health and wellness.
6. Improve Your Health as Soon as Possible
Functional medicine practitioners use every resource at their disposal — from clinical-based research to advanced lab testing — to help their patients get better faster. With a comprehensive treatment plan that targets your body’s imbalances, functional medicine helps you get your health (and life) back on track.
Since each diagnosis and treatment plan is tailored to a patient’s history and health problems, your treatment protocol is designed for a successful patient outcome. We always start by addressing the most fundamental aspects of your health condition. This way, you’re likely to see results quickly, wasting less time, money, and effort on treatments that aren’t right for you.
7. Prevent Diseases With Lifestyle Changes
Recognizing that good health isn’t just about the absence of disease, the functional medicine model goes one step further with active disease prevention. Your functional medicine doctor may recommend dietary and lifestyle changes to help you achieve and maintain optimal long-term health.
For instance, anti-inflammatory diets and probiotics supplements are simple lifestyle changes to help balance your gut microbiome. With a healthy gut, you’re less likely to experience gut dysbiosis, inflammation, and immune reactions. Better gut health can help with digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and non-digestive issues like autoimmune conditions. Better gut health can also give you more energy and help your mood. These improvements lead to optimal health and wellness for a better quality of life.
What To Expect at Austin Functional Medicine
If you’re interested in healing your chronic illness or maximizing your long-term health, try Austin Functional Medicine. We provide a smooth clinic experience through patient-centered processes to help you reach your healthiest self.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: New patient deposit and pre-exam assessment
Our health coach, Morgan Molidor, will do a pre-exam assessment to get to know you and clarify any questions you may have.
Step 2: Initial exam and follow-up session
During your initial exam, our team of functional medicine practitioners — Dr. Michael Ruscio, Dr. Robert Abbott, and Dr. Joe Mather — will review your medical history, diet, and lifestyle factors to understand your symptoms. If you’re new to functional medicine consulting, here’s some advice on how to make your clinic visits more efficient and effective.
In your initial follow-up session, your functional medicine doctor will explain the possible root causes of your health problems and recommend lab tests if needed. They will also create an initial treatment program consisting of a therapeutic diet and lifestyle plan personalized to your health care needs.
Step 3: Ongoing follow-up visits
During the treatment duration, follow-up visits are usually once a month so that your functional medicine doctor can monitor your progress. Depending on your response and lab test results (if applicable), your doctor may adjust your treatment plan to improve your health as soon as possible.
Here are a few more resources to answer, “What does a functional medicine doctor do to help you?”:
- Healthy Gut, Healthy You: Written by Dr. Ruscio, this book is a step-by-step guide to healing your digestive and overall health challenges through an integrative and functional health approach.
- Good functional medicine doctors: In this blog post, Dr. Ruscio highlights the qualities a good functional medicine doctor should have.
- Functional medicine tests: In this YouTube video, Dr. Ruscio gives advice on how much laboratory testing you should do.