Could Functional Medicine be right for you?

In today’s world, it might be difficult to figure out what type of provider is valuable for you—  and when is right time to see an integrative or functional provider. This is espscially true because it can be costly. After speaking with hundreds of patients, we developed a quiz and set of questions to help you figure out what the best option is for you. This article explains the responses to the quiz(link) in-depth.


Disclaimer: we’re not doctors and this isn’t medical advice. This quiz is only intended to give an idea of what kind of patients generally end up seeing what kinds of practitioners, in our experience.

Disclaimer: This isn’t for urgent care. If you’re seeking immediate medical attention please call 911.


Primary Care Physician.

What this is best for:

This is a great first stop for patients that have been dealing with health issues chronically and haven’t been seeing improvement, whether you have one you usually see or not. PCPs are called primary care for a reason— they can assess whether something serious could be going on and refer patients to specialists if needed. Seeing a PCP also makes sense financially, because they tend to be in-network and affordable with every insurance plan. If a patient doesn’t have a PCP, they can also see a family doctor, nurse practitioner or internist that’s in-network with their insurance.

Key characteristics:

  • They have a vast understanding of Western medicine and all the body systems

  • Seeing a PCP is likely covered by insurance so will be cheaper than your other options

  • They’ll be able to send you to a specialist that’s also in-network if needed

  • They can prescribe medicine and give diagnoses

  • Appointments tend to still be short and high-level in many cases

A Western Medicine Specialist.

What this is best for:

This is a great option for patients that have chronic or on-going health issues that haven’t gotten better over time, especially the patient has already tried at-home remedies and seen a primary care doctor.

Specialists have completed additional residencies or fellowships in their specialty area, in addition to medical school. Examples include gastroenterologists, ENT doctors, neurologists, etc. They'll have in-depth training in the specific organ system that you’re affected. They can diagnose and rule out serious conditions through imaging or lab tests.

Depending on what patients are dealing with, sometimes they can see a specialist directly and other times they’ll need a referral from a primary care doctor.

Key Characteristics:

  • They’ll be be able to rule out anything more serious going on or give you a diagnosis if you're dealing with something specific

  • They’re likely covered by insurance

  • They can order specialized lab testing or imaging- which is usually covered by insurance

  • They can prescribe medicine

  • They usually can’t work with you long-term or give you long appointments

A Health Coach.

What this is best for:

Health coaches are an appropriate option for patients that might just be looking for optimization, or patients that already know what they need to be doing but want an accountability buddy or a thought partner.

Health coaches have a breadth of training in a lot of areas— nutrition, psychology, biology, etc. so they're able to help people carry out lifestyle changes. Health coaches aren’t able to prescribe medicine or diagnose clients, but can be super helpful for those looking for an accountability partner or simply help implementing the changes they already know they need to make.

Health coaches can also be a great addition to a care team, that may include Western doctors or a functional medicine practitioner.

Key characteristics:

  • They help patients actually implement lifestyle changes

  • They can be a thought partner for coming up w solutions

  • They’ll be there to be a buddy, giving both hand-holding and accountability

  • They can work with clients long-term and consistently

  • They are more affordable than functional medicine doctors

A Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian.

What this is best for:

Nutritionists and RD”s are great for patients that might be looking for a tailored, personalized plan for what to eat and how to approach eating.

RD's and nutritionists are experts on food and nutrition. They can help clients come up with a customized diet plan thats best for the individual’s body and health needs, and carry that out. The terms RD and nutritionist are used interchangeably, but there are differences(link).

Key characteristics of both RD's and Nutritionists:

  • Experts on food and diet can help clients create something personalized to you

  • Can work with clients long-term

  • They tend to be less expensive than seeing a functional medicine doctor


Registered Dietitian

RD’s have gone through a high caliber of training in nutrition. They are trained in chemistry and food science, the psychosocial aspects of eating, the relationship between diet and disease, and more. They can prescribe extremely detailed food plans, including the breakdowns of macronutrients that may be right for each individual.

Key characteristics:

  • Can work with you long term and keep you accountable

  • Can create detailed diet and lifestyle plans

  • Can diagnose certain things and prescribe medicine/order labwork in some cases

Nutritionist

Nutritionist is a catch-all term for practitioners of nutrition, so they may have a variety of levels of education. In general though, they are trained in integrative nutrition- so food science, psychosocial aspects of eating, the relationship between diet and disease, and more.

Key characteristics:

  • Can work with you long term and keep you accountable

  • Can’t diagnose or prescribe medicine

A Functional Medicine Doctor, Integrative Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor.

What this is best for:

Functional medicine doctors are a great fit for patients that have been dealing with health issues for a while, and often health issues that have been disrupting their day to day life. These patients have often seen a variety of providers and exhausted your options within insurance, with either little to no relief or mixed diagnoses. But that's okay, sometimes Western medicine isn't enough, and there are options for these patients!

Functional medicine might be a good fit in these cases. Functional medicine takes a more holistic viewpoint and tries to get to the root-cause of health issues. Keep in mind that functional medicine practitioners share a lot in common with integrative doctors and Naturopathic doctors, so either of these could also be a fit. Read more about each below.

Keep in mind that some of these providers aren't able to go through insurance.

Key characteristics of all 3: Integrative, Functional and Naturopathic Doctors:

  • Holistic in nature: meaning they look at you as a whole person instead of a sum of disconnected parts

  • They look at all aspects of your life, including sleep, exercise, diet, relationships, spirituality and more

  • They're investigative: and want to get to the root cause of symptoms. They see symptoms in different body parts as part of the same root cause as opposed to disconnected issues.

  • They tend to help you create a plan of diet and supplements, instead of jumping to prescribing medicine or band-aid solutions.

  • They can be your long-term thought partner.

Functional Medicine Practitioners

Functional medicine is a training that any licensed healthcare provider can get on top of their existing credentials. Functional medicine is holistic in nature, but emphasizes using in-depth lab testing to get your levels to optimal. Functional medicine practitioners create a plan for you that includes diet, supplements, exercise and lifestyle.

Key characteristics:

  • Can order advanced lab-work (see what this means here).

  • Can help you create a plan that involves diet supplements etc

  • Long-term thought partner

  • In some cases may be able to prescribe medicine

  • Usually not covered by insurance

Integrative & Holistic Doctors

These are doctors that have done Western medical school or training, but have a holistic approach and look at you as a whole person. The often.left the western medicine world to work with patients 1;1 long-term to create lifestyle-based solutions and help you preventatively.

Key characteristics:

  • western knowledge base of medicine, often can prescribe medicine

  • very holistic in nature- so look at your emotions, sleep ,stress

  • Can give you a plan for diet & supplements

  • Long-term thought partner

  • Sometimes covered by insurance

Naturopathic Doctor

Naturopathic doctors attended a 4-year medical school for naturopathic medicine.

Key characteristics:

  • Can work with patients long-term and give detailed lifestyle plans, including diet, supplements, etc.

  • Can order in-depth labwork

  • Can sometimes order medicine

  • Are sometimes covered by insurance