The obvious difference between a first consultation with a functional medicine doctor and a conventional doctor is time. When going for an appointment with a conventional doctor a patient may be allocated as little as a ten minute slot, enough to explain symptoms, carry out a physical check or two and produce a prescription or arrange a referral. With a functional medicine practitioner a typical first appointment may be a couple of hours long, enough time to go deeply into the health factor issues raised on the functional solution page.
This is a patient-centered approach, the patient is required to take an active role in the initial consultation stages and in managing their health and following a personal treatment program. There is responsibility for the patient. It is likely that the patient has come to functional medicine after having gone through the conventional “pill for an ill” approach where it was initially just “gimme something doc” to ease the symptoms. So it is expected that they have moved passed this thought process and are willing to be actively engaged in their consultation and personlised plan.
To start with, the patient’s diagnosis and treatment details from their conventional doctors will be looked at. Discussion and questionnaires will give the functional medicine doctor a thorough picture of the patient’s genetic issues, personal health history, family health history, lifestyle, activities, routines, diet and toxic environment…everything that influences their health. A food diary and symptom diary completed by the patient will be looked at. Then, based on all these findings, the performance of the body’s systems will be evaluated with a selection of appropriate specialized tests.
A functional medicine doctor will often consider the patient’s health story as requiring an approach akin to detective work.
As well as straight forward questions about the lifestyle, environment and diet factors detailed on the functional solution page here, the consultation will go into how the patient considers their health issues, what the patient may think improves their symptoms or makes them deteriorate. It is very important to consider everything and look at all the clues. There may be obvious stand out indications straight away but the functional practitioner will look further, often with chronic conditions there are a collective of numerous concealed causes that may all seem minor on their own but accumulate together to throw function off balance.
This thorough probing into all areas affecting the patient’s health unearths patterns that show how symptoms have developed and advanced, and digs up prized intelligence that will provide the strategies and ammunition to tackle the functional imbalances.
Conventional medical practice will carry out standard, familiar testing, but tests, often numerous ones through a long period of suffering with poor health, can come back as showing nothing wrong, even though its obvious to you and your doctor that all is not well. Functional medicine doctors have considerable expertise in using testing to assess and evaluate the functional situation of hormonal activity(the endocrine system), assimilation and elimination (the gastrointestinal system), immune response (the immune system) and cellular communication (the nervous system). As well as standard tests for biomarkers such as cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar etc. the functional practitioner can utilise tests for oxidative stress, adrenal function, mitochondrial function, bone health, food sensitivities and metabolic imbalance. The patient’s nutritional situation can be looked at with testing for vitamin levels, mineral levels, fatty acids and amino acids. Genetic testing can be done to discover any susceptibility to chronic conditions. Toxic status can be investigated with testing for environmanetal toxins such as heavy metals and exposure to mold.
Some testing can be done at your functional medicine doctor’s practice, some may involve home testing and sampling through the use of kits, other tests may involve a visit to a specialised lab.
As can be seen so far, a comprehensive, detailed, in depth consulation takes place, bearing this in mind it can be useful for a patient to have a family member or friend accompany them, there may be a lot to remember, they can help with taking any notes of importance, help with asking questions and be of assistance with emotional support or assertiveness support.
All of this evaluation work provides the full picture of health information needed for the functional medicine doctor and patient to work together to compile a personal health action plan to work on the key health issues. While it is common to experience results very quickly it is also necessary to allow the plan time to effect change, for instance the patient may be required to follow protocols for twelve weeks before reviewing progress.
So the consultation with a functional medicine doctor is thorough, wide ranging in depth and comes up with a plan of action for the patient to move forward with a combination of conventional treatment and changes to key factors of their diet, lifestyle and environment.
A plan that involves changes may seem daunting, it may seem a big challenge, it may seem difficult to start with. But with small steps it’s achievable, and when a patient starts to feel the benefits it becomes much easier. Such a plan enables the patient to view their treatment with confidence, thus leaving their first consultation with a positive expectancy of step by step progress on a path to health improvement.