Functional medicine is a unique form of medicine where doctor and patient form a partnership to get to the root cause of what is ailing you. A functional medicine doctor will take more time to look at you holistically and help you choose natural means through diet, lifestyle, and supplements to prevent, treat, or decrease risks of illness. However, just like any specialty, a functional medicine doctor has areas that they may focus on so when choosing one, you have to understand what you want, what they offer, and the type of training they have had. Ask some of the following questions of yourself and the doctor.
What is your goal for seeing a functional medicine doctor?
- If your goal is preventing an illness because there is a family history, be sure to seek a functional medicine doctor that focuses on prevention and risk reduction.
- If your goal is cancer care, HIV, severe neurological disorders, autism or Lyme disease, these are specialty areas that require different training and more support staff.
- If your goal is to get a good handle on issues that may be looming or lying beneath the surface, seek someone who has experience with comprehensive physicals or executive physicals because they are more detailed and in depth.
- If your goal is to treat an existing illness, ask if the functional medicine doctor treats people with that condition.
What is the training of a functional medicine doctor?
There is now a plethora of organizations that train and certify functional medicine doctors. Some allow listing on their websites even if they only completed a short course. Others will list the doctors who completed a certification or fellowship. Since many of these organizations don’t operate under the American Board of Physician Specialties, they may not be able to list if they are “Board Certified” on their own website, however, if they completed a fellowship program which includes extensive study, they can advertise that they are a Diplomate, meaning they hold a diploma in that field and passed certification requirements. Look at the doctor’s biography for the words Diplomate, which means they hold a Diploma in Functional Medicine and are qualified as a Functional Medicine Doctor in that organization.
Beware of health care professionals who take a weekend course and say they are functional medicine doctors. Not all certifications are created equal. The two most well known are the American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine (A4M) and the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM).
- A4M combines functional and anti-aging medicine training. Doctors who are diplomates need to complete 8 courses in person and 40 hours of online courses, 8 case studies, as well as pass a written and oral exam.
- IFM requires 7 courses, and they must pass a case study and a written exam.
What advanced training does the functional medicine doctor have in the area that interests me?
Some training programs offer advanced certification courses and others have relationships with colleges and medical school.
- The American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine has affiliations with The George Washington University School of Medicine
- The Institute of Functional Medicine and The American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine have world-renowned educators. Some teach at both institutions. If you have a certain area you are interested in and know a doctor whose philosophy you follow, choose a functional medicine doctor who has had some training by that physician.
- There are training programs in many different areas such as Cancer, Stem Cells, Sports Medicine, Nutrition, and others.
Ask the functional medicine doctor if they treat your specific condition
This is the most fundamental question to ask in order to be sure you are going to the right person. Review their website, read their blogs, watch their videos to determine if you feel comfortable with their approach. You can get to know them through their online presence. Once you visit them, determine if you feel heard and understood since the relationship is important in the health and healing process.
Many functional medicine doctors can follow up with you by telephone and/or have virtual visits, however, most must see you in person first and most do not participate in insurance plans. Many will give you forms to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement of you have out of network benefits, health savings accounts or flexible spending plans. To reap rewards of good health, you must invest in yourself. This will give you the best chance of living a quality life with vibrant health. Finding a functional medicine doctor through organizations that train them is easy, finding one that meets your specific needs will take a little probing but it will be well worth it.
Dr. Lorraine Maita is a recognized and award-winning holistic, functional, and anti-aging physician and author. She transforms people’s lives by getting to the root cause of illness using the best of science and nature. Her approach is personalized, precision medicine where you are treated as the unique individual you are. If you’re ready to start your journey to a healthier, happier life, schedule your visit today!