Be Your #1 Advocate: How to Find a Functional Medicine Doctor to Heal Your Chronic Condition


This is the second in a series of posts about the little-known world of functional medicine.  The first gave an overview of what functional medicine is, how it works differently from conventional western medicine, and who it can help. Read it here.

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas two weeks ago, and the devastation is truly unimaginable. As a health practitioner however, I find myself thinking less of the financial and property loss and more about the health tolls these people might face now and in the future.  For instance, so much water = so much mold.  Mold toxicity is a debilitating and common condition that can be tricky to diagnose.  And PTSD is common after a traumatic experience like this, and can cause shifts in the brain and gut chemistry of an individual that can give way to lasting chronic symptoms.  These are the types of conditions that the right functional medicine doctor can really help with.  It is my hope that one day, functional medicine doctors will be commonplace, covered by insurance, and the first place people turn when they have nagging symptoms.

But for now, I'll keep preachin'.  :)

A couple weeks ago I posted about the basics of functional medicine (see link above).  Now, I want to go a bit deeper and give you a road map for finding the best doctor or practice to help you, wherever you are on your health journey.  Whether you want to simply be the healthiest you can be, or are seeking longevity, or have specific symptoms that range from bothersome to debilitating, functional or alternative medicine practitioners can help. 

Functional medicine doctors can come from a variety of backgrounds.  They can be MDs, DOs, Chiropractors (DCs), Naturopaths (NDs), and more.  Also, there is no "one way" to be trained in functional medicine - there are many different schools, and schools of thought.  So, like with many professions, not all functional medicine practitioners are created equal.

Getting Started

Here are some places to start when trying to find a functional medicine doctor:

  • Google "functional medicine doctors" near you and start investigating those that come up
  • Ask around - if you know someone who is into holistic health and/or has a chronic health condition, see if they can make any recommendations
  • Go to Institute for Functional medicine locate a doctor page - but keep in mind this is just one certification and the quality of doctors on here can vary widely
  • The Living Proof Institute is a great functional medicine place with one of their primary locations right near me in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have trained physicians and practitioners all over the US and you can find one near you using their Locator Tool.  (Full disclosure: I do get referral pay from LPI, but I wouldn't recommend them to you if I didn't believe in them and hadn't been a patient there myself! So, if you end up being a patient here, please tell them I sent ya! :))

Narrow It Down

Once you have your list from the ideas above, the next step is to look into each practitioner's website.  Search for testimonials, look at their "about" page and see if they have any specialties, and try to find out a bit about their philosophy and how they practice.  From there, narrow it down to a short list and call each office for more information about their offerings and protocols, including costs, and the tests they run.  Many will offer a free "discovery session" in which you fill out a (sometimes long) health form ahead of time, and you review it with someone from the practice, and both parties can see if it is a good fit to work together.

What Questions to Ask

When you call for more info or during your discovery session, make sure you ask some questions to make sure the practice will be able to help you adequately.  A true functional medicine doctor will usually order a variety of blood, urine, stool, and sometimes other tests looking at some major functions of the body:

  • Digestive health
  • Hormones (not just female/male hormones but also things like cortisol, thyroid, etc)
  • Detox need (measuring things like heavy metals and toxins that could be taxing the body)

If a practice says they don't send out for any of these kind of tests, be wary: they might be practicing "natural" or "alternative" medicine, but they aren't true functional medicine practitioners and may not be able to get to the root cause of your condition.  Functional medicine practitioners rely on science and advances in testing technology to see what's truly going on inside the body.

(Health)-Baller on a Budget: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck in the Functional Medicine World

The biggest problem some people have with seeing functional or alternative practitioners is that many times these practitioners aren't covered by insurance, and the cost may not fit into their budget.  If you are on a tight budget for one reason or another, here are some tips/tricks and doctors you might want to try out:

 Look for a regular practicing doctor that accepts insurance who has a "functional or natural" approach

The gynecology and women's health practice I work for in Cincinnati, Dr. Brenner, is one of these.  We diagnose and treat thyroid disorders, insulin resistance, and other chronic conditions naturally with supplementation, natural medication, diet and lifestyle, and further functional medicine testing to identify "root cause".  And, the "doctor" side of our practice is all still covered by insurance!  So if you can find a practice like this in your area, you have scored big time.

Seek out chiropractors

Some chiropractors are also functional medicine practitioners, but most are not.  Even so, they tend to take a more holistic approach to healing, and recognize at a base level that all systems in the body are connected.  Even just getting regular chiropractic care can go a long way in many cases towards healing your body.  Many chiropractors accept insurance, and for those that don't you can still submit to your insurance afterwards in most cases and get reimbursed for at least part of the cost.

 Use a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to pay for holistic practitioners

Most FSAs can be used to pay for anything at all that involves your health - including doctors that aren't covered in your normal insurance plan, suppleme nts, etc.  HSAs are a little more particular, for instance, I can use my HSA to cover my chiropractor who isn't covered by regular insurance - but not for my supplements.  Look into your specific plan and call your insurance company if needed to provide more clarity on what is covered.

While some practices might not accept insurance, the tests they will use to diagnose you might

Many functional medicine test companies (which are separate and distinct entities from functional medicine practitioners) have deals worked out already with health insurance companies that have agreed to cover the majority of the costs of their tests.  For instance Genova, which is the biggest and most widely used functional testing company, has agreements with many of the big insurance companies so that if (for example) the test costs $2,200, you may only pay $149.  So consider this when choosing whether to proceed with certain tests and practitioners.  You can always call the office ahead of time and inquire about what types of tests they use and what the costs typically are with your specific insurance.

Take a deep breath and look at the pros and cons

This is never a popular piece of advice, and can (if I'm being honest) rub some people the wrong way.  But, without your health - what do you have?  If you have a debilitating condition or something that interferes with your daily life and happiness, it may be worth it to work out a new and more restrictive budget so that you can pay the right doctors to help you feel better.  Now obviously if you just want to be a little healthier and aren't dealing with a chronic condition, maybe you don't want to take out a second mortgage on your home for that :).  Use your judgment here.

Do Your Own Research

This is one of the most important mindsets to embrace when embarking down the road to health and healing.  You don't need a medical degree to figure some things out on your own, and the more you know, the better chance you have of being able to find that doctor who can help you.

Many of the most important changes and discoveries I've made during my health journey have been as a result of me researching and advocating for myself.  That's how I figured out I was misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia and found a doctor who would test me for chronic viruses.  And I found my other doctor based in San Diego by listening to functional medicine podcasts.  In addition, I have made probably close to 100 diet and lifestyle tweaks and changes over the past 10 years based on my own research, studying, and experimenting with what works best for my body.

But if you don't want to spend hours upon hours knee-deep in doctor Google and health books (and really who does - besides me, obviously, and I'm super-weird), here are a couple places to start and people to turn to with (in my opinion) the BEST info out there:

The best way to utilize these amazing minds is to follow them on social media, read their books, and explore their blog articles on their website using the "search" function.  For instance, if you have certain symptoms that are concerning, type in one at a time and see what comes up. (Note: if you happen to be a hypochondriac, this is probably not the best tactic for you!)  Or, if you are interested in say, detoxing, search "detox".  The topics and their knowledge are truly practically endless.

Some of these doctors also take patients currently - and most can work with remote patients so it doesn't matter if you are necessarily in the same city.  Dig around on their website to see if this is an option.

If you want to dive even deeper and expand your own knowledge base...

Consider enrolling in a holistic nutrition school.  These schools and programs are not just for those interested in a career in health - many students enroll simply to gain a better understanding of how to live a healthy, vibrant life for themselves and their families.  The school I recommend is Institute for Integrative Nutrition for many reasons.  Here are just a few:

  1. It's pretty affordable, compared to other programs, and they regularly offer additional discounts on their tuition
  2. You don't need a prior degree
  3. It's all online - in an app and online portal
  4. They have a very diverse and qualified list of faculty.  Some other nutrition schools subscribe to one philosophy, but IIN teaches many and emphasizes bio-individuality

While IIN is not a functional medicine school, it exposes you to a whole community of people who believe in the power of functional medicine and are clued into the most cutting-edge science in the industry.  The connections I made while at IIN are what allowed me to find the right path in digging deeper into my health condition and ultimately finding answers.

If you're interested in learning more about IIN, feel free to email me or comment below! 

The last part in this series about functional medicine will be coming in a couple weeks and will look at what symptoms are indicative of a chronic condition, and what root causes could possibly be responsible for different symptoms you may be facing.

And just in case you found the above incredibly boring (be honest ;)), and have no current need for a functional medicine doc, here are some recent RBN Insta pics.  I mean - food and babies.  What could be better?!  Be sure to follow me on Instagram for meal and snack ideas, holistic lifestyle tips, and more.  As always, thanks for being here!

Hope your day is as beautiful as you!  

<3, Shannon