Most people can relate to the frustrating situation of making an appointment to see their doctor, only for the appointment to start an hour or more later. Then, after a very rushed visit, being sent home with a prescription and no new insight into what exactly is happening with their health.
This is a cycle that focuses on symptoms, ignores underlying causes, and it’s not one person’s fault. Our conventional medical system arose from the treatment of acute illnesses. It’s a good thing, too! Our modern medicine successfully treats many acute and infectious diseases.
The problem is now when most people get sick, it’s no longer an acute illness that sends them to the doctor. Chronic conditions are on the rise and proper diagnosis and treatment of these diseases requires more than a 15-minute appointment.
Comprehensive medical histories, lab work, and a broad understanding of the body and its metabolic processes are needed. I like to think of it as detective work. Clues are collected and a diagnosis is revealed. Because finding the root cause of symptoms is the foundation of integrative and functional medicine treatments involve completely addressing underlying issues; infectious, toxic, genetic, nutritional, metabolic, and others.
When you address the root cause, there’s a much better chance of reversing or eliminating the condition altogether. The ability of functional medicine to look beyond the symptoms and offer real, lifelong solutions is why I am so passionate about my life’s work. I believe everyone should have access to the benefits of holistic personalized medicine, which is why I want to write about how to choose a good integrative and functional medicine doctor. Here are my tips for finding the doctor best for you and I hope it helps you on your journey to better health!
Types of Functional Medicine Practitioners
There are different types of practitioners that specialize in integrative and functional medicine, and it’s important that you know the difference so you can choose which is most beneficial for you. With the increase in online resources and advice, I believe it is actually very important to check the credentials of the person from whom you are taking advice. Sadly, It is not uncommon for unscrupulous individuals to call themselves “doctor” without any basis or credentials, playing on the vulnerability of the general public.
- Medical Doctor (M.D.) – A doctor who first went through traditional medical school and then added training and education in integrative and functional medicine. They will have the most flexibility in ordering tests and prescribing medications.
- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) – This is a doctor who, like an M.D. has a wide range of services they are able to offer. This means they can prescribe medication, and are even able to become surgeons. They generally focus on the body as a whole.
- Nurse Practitioner (N.P.) – Many people don’t realize that nurse practitioners in many ways have similar abilities as doctors. They are able to own and operate their own practices and can also prescribe medications.
- Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) – While chiropractors are generally thought of a those who primarily treat orthopedic dysfunction, they are also able to practice functional medicine. They cannot prescribe medications and usually have a medical doctor they work with or recommend if you need a traditional treatment.
- Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.) – These doctors use a system of treatment of disease that avoids drugs and surgery and emphasizes the use of natural agents, prescribing and licensing privileges vary by state.
All of these practitioners carry different benefits. Ultimately, it’s up to you to find the best fit for your life.
Key Characteristics of a Good Functional Medicine Doctor
Here are the key characteristics of a good functional medicine doctor:
- They recommend a plant based organic often grain free diet.
- They don’t make grandiose promises.
- They specialize in complex chronic conditions such as autoimmune disease.
- They see themselves as your partner in health.
- They outline expectations so you know what to expect all along the way.
- They help you prioritize decisions such as testing and changes that need to be made.
- They make you feel comfortable and unjudged.
- They spend the time with you.
A Few Red Flags
Here are some red flags that should raise your eyebrows and possibly cause you to opt for a different doctor:
- The don’t seem to weigh the cost/benefit of tests or overly recommend expensive testing. For example, sometimes you can eliminate items from your diet as opposed to having testing done. Be sure to be honest about your financial limitations so they can work with you to find the best solution for your health and your wallet.
- They don’t think diet is very important.
- They recommend overly expensive and excessive supplements.
- They recommend harsh or dangerous detoxes.
- They promise you cures.
- They make you feel uncomfortable or don’t listen to you.
- They make you feel powerless or discouraged.
Finding a Functional Medicine Doctor Who Specializes in Your Condition
When you’re looking for a functional medicine doctor, start in your local area with a general Google search. You may or may not find a good few options easily. Be sure to check for any reviews by searching the specific doctor’s name. If you have a certain condition, sometimes you can find a list of doctors who specialize on websites and support groups sites devoted to that condition.
For example, many autoimmune conditions have their own websites of resources that will help you find a doctor more quickly. You may even find forums where previous patients discuss how they liked a particular doctor.
Here’s a quick step-by-step process for how you might narrow your search when looking for an integrative or functional medicine doctor:
- Google integrative and functional medicine doctors in your area. If you live in a city with lots of neighboring towns, be sure to try searching in some of the areas near you. For example, I’m located in Louisville, CO which is close to both Boulder and Denver. If you live in the Denver area be sure to check: Boulder, Aurora, Centennial and more.
- Do a search based on your condition. If you have a condition, search in your area but also beyond. Sometimes it’s worth it to travel a bit if it means you’ll find someone who specializes in your condition.
- Check reviews. Once you find a couple of doctors you’re interested in, check for any reviews available.
- Once you’ve made a preliminary list, narrow it down or consider making an initial appointment with one or two. You can get a good idea about how you’d like a doctor from listening to interviews, Youtube videos, podcasts, and reading blogs.
- Make an appointment. The only way you’ll know you’ve found the doctor perfect for you is if you make an initial appointment. I believe your doctor should make you feel at ease and help you understand what needs to be done to be your healthiest self.
We live in a time where you are no longer limited to medical care within a certain radius of your home. Telemedicine is a fast growing industry that pairs patients with doctors all over the world. Benefits of telemedicine include:
- Access to a specialist without the cost of travel – With telemedicine you have access to a wider range of doctors than you would in your local area. Plus, you don’t have to travel to their office and can complete appointments with your computer.
- Convenience – Often appointments are done over Skype in the comfort of your own home and then tests are ordered to a local laboratory.
- Possibly more affordable – Sometimes telemedicine is actually more affordable because it doesn’t require office time and it makes visits more efficient.
- Enhanced patient compliance – Many find they are more willing to interact with a doctor via telemedicine due to the convenience and comfort.
If you find a doctor you think is perfect for you, consider telemedicine. Even if that doctor doesn’t advertise it on their site, it might be worth asking if it’s something they offer. Technology is rapidly expanding our options and telemedicine is yet another way we can think outside the box for better health.
Resources for Finding an Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor
Here are a couple of websites that can point you in the right direction:
- The Institute for Functional Medicine
- American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine
- Paleo Physicians Network
- Re-Find Health
- Naturopathic Physicians
- American College for Advancement in Medicine
In 2017, Dr. Josh Axe, a functional chiropractor in Nashville, TN who is best known for his website of extensive content, compiled a list of the Top 50 Functional and Integrative Medicine Doctors. This list focuses on the area of expertise and could help you find a doctor who specializes in your particular illness. It’s a good list to check, though it doesn’t say where each doctor is located so it may take a bit more sleuthing than a list that is organized by location. However, if you aren’t opposed to telemedicine, you might find the doctor perfect for you on this list.
I hope this helps you find the doctor that is just right for you. It’s time there was a rebirth of the doctor-patient relationship. I believe integrative and functional medicine is the solution to most current medical frustrations. Here’s to your best health!
20 thoughts on “How to Choose a Good Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor”
Once again, my dear colleague, Dr Carnahan, is generous with her wise offerings in this article. We will be sure to share this valuable post with our patients who need additional information about selecting functional medicine providers.
Have been seeing a functional DC for a couple of years. We have made a lot of progress in my overall health. I, personally, do not want to go the route of allopathic med anymore, however I see that it may be necessary at times. My problem is finding an MD or DO for conditions, prescriptions, female exams, etc where I need that kind of support who will acknowledge my choice of functional medicine and see its value. Most MD’s/DO’s I have found who claim to be “functional” require “buying into their program” and purchasing only their supplements. The cost is way too high. They also often do not take insurance. Others seem to be into modalities that do not make a lot of sense medically or scientifically. I find I feel at a loss of what to do. Any direction?
Some naturopathic doctors can prescribe thyroid medicine and bio identical hormones along with a few other things. The state of Washington licenses naturopathic doctors who write these prescriptions and pharmacist do fill them.
I was surprised to see that Physician Assistants (PAs) were not included in the “Types of Functional Medicine Practitioners” section of this article.
PAs are highly qualified and licensed healthcare providers. They are similar to Nurse Practitioners in that they have similar abilities as doctors, can prescribe medications, etc.
However, PAs are specifically trained in the medical model where Nurse Practitioners core training stems from the nursing model.
I have a fantastic functional medicine PA and I hope others will discover the value and high quality care delivered by these medical practitioners.
Yes, I understand completely but I don’t believe that PAs are licensed to practice independently without a supervising doc are they?
It is my understanding that nurse practioners can practice independently in only 21 states. There is legislation in the works for PAs to do the same. There are states where PAs can own their own practices.
Nurse practitioner independent practice is a function of the lobbying power of the much large nursing profession and not a superior education, skill set or scope of practice. Having been the preceptor to many NP students and friends with many NPs, I can attest to what they themselves have called an inadequate education. This is not to be disparaging to NPs as I know many that are fine clinicians.
I fail to see a valid reason for PAs to be left off your list. How does the inability to practice independently or own a clinic detract from a clinician’s competence or ability to care for their patient? As a well known and respected figure, I believe that you have done PAs and practices that they own or that employ them a grave disservice.
Thanks for your insight, Jason! You are right on, completely agree…
In Minnesota, P.A.’s need to work directly under a M.D..
Is it possible for a PA to opetate on their own?
Also, I found a MS doctor under functional doctors, not on three list either. From what I understand they are surgeons and don’t understand the leap in practice.
Finally, I’m wondering how my insurance might cover my annual physical mainly blood work and treating for early dementia with the understanding it may be gut related and need for medal detoxing. I’m trying to find the correct doctor and their particular training but still focuses on the entire body. Any thoughts? Hope this is clear. By the way, Chicago and Orlando or Tampa are my choices in case a doctor comes in mind.
You may find doctors who take insurance that will cover the labs for you – try searching the links I put into the article. 🙂
Great information. Thanks Dr Carnahan!
Do you offer telemedicine in your practice?
Yes, we require first visit in person to establish care in Colorado and then are able to do follow-up appointments by phone or Skype
I would love to see you. Is your wait still several years?
I am not accepting new patients at this time. Feel free to check back in a few months
My husband was just diagnosed with lupus, so we are looking for the best functional medicine practitioner for him to start seeing. So thanks for suggesting that we start by looking at reviews for a doctor who specializes in your specific disease. We will definitely have to start our search by first looking at the functional medicine practitioners who are known to specialize in lupus and make sure they have good reviews.
I do agree with you when you said that it is best to start with the local area when it comes to looking for a doctor, though it is better to travel just a little bit if it means finding a professional who deals with the person’s condition. My sister has a rare lung condition, and I need a doctor to care for her. If it means that she will be well taken care of, I do not mind leaving the city to find a doctor. Thanks!
Wow, I did not know that there were so many different kinds of medical practitioners and doctors out there. However, it really is good to have all of these different types of doctors listed in one place. That way you can make sure that you end up choosing the right kind of doctor for whichever ailment you’re having to deal with.
Hi – Diagnosed with EBV – I’m a female ultra-runner that can barely get off the couch now :(. I’ve been trying to research adult (over 40) EBV…they talk about ‘herxing’, like with Lyme. What is a timelime for feeling better – stronger. I’ve been told I’ll probably go down…way down…then back up…then down again for about 2-3months. Is this how it goes – I just need another professional to give me a bit of insight before I go on the attack!?! Thank you
I like your suggestion to look at any available reviews online and check for people who specialize in your condition. Frankly, I don’t have any particular condition, but I have moved to a new area, and I want to find a new physician to start going to whenever something comes up. Your tips should help me find a good clinic.