Today, I would like to share a few words with you about what it has been like for me, professionally, to work a medical practice outside the traditional healthcare system, what I’ve learned from my patients, how my clinical interests have led me to advanced training in functional medicine and how I see the evolution of diagnostic laboratory testing coming into play as people continue to demand more when it comes to their healthcare.
I want to start by bringing something important into focus. I think it is important to point out that each year Americans continue to spend more out-of-pocket money on health services beyond those offered within the traditional, health-care system. There’s a very important message being sent here. People are actively searching for “more” when it comes to their healthcare. Gone are the days that patients are routinely given comprehensive detailed laboratory assessments. In fact the average health care practitioner spends very little time with his/her patients’. A 45 minute office visit to the doctor that includes 5 minutes with the doctor and 40 minutes waiting is dangerous to one’s health. This poses a serious problem and, I believe, is one of the main reasons behind why people end up in an office like mine.
People are seeking healthcare solutions and practitioners that can provide them with comprehensive evaluations, carefully thought out treatment plans and non-invasive, early detection screening options. It is this transformed mindset that sets up the stage for “functional” medicine, where people seek objective analyses such as lab tests with conservative support that includes nutritional therapy, diet, and lifestyle change.
Let’s talk a minute about the most common objective lab test, the blood chemistry panel. It is standard. It is familiar. It’s hard to argue the validity of a blood test. It allows cross-talk among practitioners of different disciplines. But most importantly, it allows a healthcare practitioner to quickly assess the degree of health or disease in a patient across multiple systems. One single blood draw can suggest the probability of many conditions, including various types of anemia, gut, viral and bacterial infections, liver and kidney issues, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, diabetes, thyroid problems, adrenal problems and even many more.
It is truly the ultimate tool in biomedical laboratory sciences to evaluate patients. The provider is able to establish a baseline of biomarkers that can be used to track a patient’s health immediately and over a period of time.
So what is Functional Medicine? Simply put, functional medicine is a system of care concerned with addressing the underlying causes of the human disease process. The model acknowledges and respects that disease tends to be preceded by a lengthy period of declining function in one or more of the body’s systems. Those dysfunctions are, for each of us, the result of lifelong interactions among our environment, our lifestyle, and our genetic predispositions. And testing plays an important role in pulling it all together.
How does a functional health analysis differ from a conventional one? Well, in the case of the blood test, it all really comes down to the reference range. A pathological range used in the conventional model is used to help diagnose disease. The references ranges provided with laboratory test results are referred to as the “pathological range”, because if markers fall out of this range, it usually indicates potential for pathology.
The functional range, in comparison, is a tighter range and is used to assess risk for disease before disease develops. It also offers the person insight into what is considered “optimal” giving them something to strive for. People love learning the details behind their blood test. It is not uncommon for me to hear frustrations from patients who do not feel well – they still have symptoms yet all their labs check out normal.
Providers that practice preventative medicine and wellness are those most inclined to incorporate consulting with patients when levels present outside the tighter, optimal range. Rather than waiting for a condition to be clinically diagnosable and then warranting a specific medication, the aim of the functional health care practitioner is to address the underlying mechanism that is dysfunctional early enough to negate the disease process.
What does Functional Medicine offer You? You are empowered to make science-guided, informed choices today to influence the health of your tomorrow. Baseline testing and the colorful depiction of both high risk and moderate risk markers offers you an understanding of your biomedical picture and physiology in degrees of grey as opposed to black and white.
The medicine model is offering a very high-touch personal service for what is becoming a very high-tech personal society. It is, I believe, in alignment with the movement we see in preventative, integrative healthcare and offers the right solution at the right time. The highly personalized consultations allow for a thorough discussion over each relevant risk marker. And, it provides the time to offer wellness strategies such as lifestyle, diet, and nutritional therapies to improve markers from one test date to the next.
The follow-up testing is just as significant as it offers the team and members objective data to track the therapeutic value of recommendations implemented. It is highly motivating for a person to see biomarkers begin to shift in more favorable, optimal directions. And if markers don’t change, this is just as significant as evaluations and strategies need to be re-worked sooner rather than later. If biomarkers can be managed before they fall within the pathological range, early detection and intervention is made possible. If people understand what they can do to curtail the onset of disease before disease sets in, preventative medicine can be practiced.
I think we would all agree that, in the end, this effort simply makes the most sense.