Seeing a functional medicine doctor, an insider’s perspective, Part I

The 14 months I have worked for a MD who practices functional medicine have changed my life. This time has convinced me that functional medicine is a powerful, logical, necessary, way of practicing medicine. (If you are reading this thinking, “what the hell is functional medicine,” watch this great TEDMed talk by Dr. Mark Hyman).

Part of what makes my job so rewarding is the Doctor I work for. She really helps people. I think there are several attributes she has that make her such an effective healer, and I know I surely will always want to see a practitioner who has these qualities. So, I thought it may be helpful to share, for people who are looking for a Dr.

I wish I would have had the foresight to look for a post like this when I was having health problems last year. I didn’t want to burden the Dr. I work for (I had just started working there and she was/is very busy with paying patients), so I sought help from a prominent member of the real food community. This person is incredibly intelligent, but for whatever reason was not what I needed at the time. I was left feeling frustrated, confused (I am still trying to work out what was going on, maybe I will post about it at some point), and a bit used. I think, had I found a practitioner who was more like the Dr. I work for, I would have found some resolution and gotten my health back sooner.

Desirable qualities in a healthcare provider, starting with the most important (in my opinion):
1. Someone who is open-minded. Dogmatism is not a good quality to have in a practitioner. You should be able to question his/her suggestions. When you have reactions contrary to what s/he expected, s/he should be able to see it as a learning experience, rather than just a fluke. This also relates to ego; you don’t want a functional medicine provider who thinks s/he is god.
2. You should like this person. You are going to be sharing some pretty personal stuff with them, and having someone who you feel comfortable with and trust is vital.
3. Experience does help. Experienced doctors are better able to recognize patterns, and have refined their toolkit. On the other hand, old school docs can have some issues with #1.
4. A shit-load of paperwork (that you optimally fill out before your visit) that digs pretty deep into your past is a good thing. It is part of what makes functional medicine unique.
5. Nice office staff (yes, I am talking about myself here). If the office staff seems bitter and unhelpful, it could be because the doctor is a dick. In our office, we are constantly laughing, smiling, and engaging each other and the patients. The office staff are your bridge to the doctor, so you want them to be friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.
6. A physical exam is an important diagnostic tool. I would not choose someone who did all of their visits via Skype or phone (I think that was part of the problem I had with the practitioner I “saw”). However, don’t be afraid to travel, because after the first couple visits, phone visits are usually feasible. Most doctors just ask you see them in person for the first visit (or two) and once per year after that.

I am sure I will add to this as I think of more qualities. Other things I want to talk about in this series (I feel so official having a series) are what to expect and how to get the most out of your experience.

Now, how to find a functional medicine provider. The Institute for Functional Medicine has a “find a provider” site, which I highly recommend. Also, ask around- most of our patients are referrals.

I would love to hear your experiences or questions. And remember, this is just one girl’s opinion.

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One Response to Seeing a functional medicine doctor, an insider’s perspective, Part I

  1. Pingback: Things that scare me | Living Clean, Cooking Dirty

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