Finding a practitioner who's right for you

Joy Cutrone, Wellness & Certified AIP Coach, FMCHC-Candidate
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Find medical partners you can trust

This is one of our key “Rules of the Road.” You need a functional medicine practitioner who’s accessible to you, with whom you can form an alliance. You need a functional medicine practitioner – and you may also need a specialist for your condition. In our humble opinion, there’s still a role in your treatment plan for a traditional MD who specializes in your version of autoimmunity – be it IBD, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Type 1 Diabetes, Alopecia, or any of the other many ways in which autoimmune “disorder” presents in the body. You may hope to migrate away from the pharmaceutical drugs that they rely upon to treat your condition, but chances are you’re already in that approach if you’ve been diagnosed, and you need a transition plan. Even functional medicine practitioners use pharmaceutical drugs when necessary; your specialist may be needed for that, and/or for covered diagnostics, and/or for confirmation of your progress or, heaven forbid, for a crisis.

Validation and support

What you need, specifically, especially as you transition to an approach that emphasizes causes over effects — wellness over illness – is a specialist who sees merit in this approach. You need a practitioner who can listen to you, and will honor your choices. Just as with your functional medicine practitioner, any other physician or specialist you engage needs to be someone you can trust. You won’t make progress if someone is planting fear, doubt, and insecurity into your plan while you’re trying to move forward into a healing approach. That said, keep in mind that wellness is not their world, so you’ll need to keep your filter on: don’t expect them to be 100% on board; what you need is for them to be enough on board.

Leading by example

And then, when you find a partner in the world of conventional medicine who gets on board with what you’re doing — or at least politely tolerates it, and cooperates with your needs — perhaps your continued association will actually help advance their own protocols. By demonstrating what works for you as your health improves, you may help their practice evolve from a strict reliance on only pharmaceutical options, to one that’s more open minded about other protocols that help bodies heal. They may discuss with other practitioners and patients ways that help you live a better quality of life. So, think of your association as a two-way partnership.

If, at any time, you feel genuinely undermined (versus frustrated with the workings of the conventional medical system), move on to someone who will help. You’ve got enough going on; you don’t need a counterproductive participant. Visit the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) Find a Practitioner tool at to see if you can locate a specialist who’s also trained in functional medicine, or ask your current practitioner who they may know in your area.

Questions for your potential functional medicine practitioner

Here are some questions from the Institute of Functional Medicine that may help you decide which practitioner may be right for you.

  • As a Functional Medicine practitioner, how would you describe your practice?
  • Do you have information you could send me about how Functional Medicine relates to your practice?
  • Do you have experience treating my condition?
  • What is the cost of an office visit? Do you take insurance, or do you operate on a cash-based practice model?
  • What are the main therapies you use? For example, do your first-line treatment options involve dietary changes, herbal medicinal methods, chiropractic adjustment, nutritional supplementation, hormone replacement, and/or prescription medications?
  • Do you use laboratory studies (urine, stool, saliva, and/or blood tests) to aid your diagnosis, or do you rely on other assessment tools? If so, what other diagnostic tools do you use? (1)
  • Learn more on The IFM Patient Resources page, or download the Question Guide to take with you to your first appointment.

Questions your practitioner may have for you

When it comes to the questionnaire that practitioners are going to ask you to fill out prior to your first visit, prepare for it to be comprehensive. While it will definitely include questions you’d typically see on a medical questionnaire, it will also include questions about your overall health that may seem comprehensive or, even, unrelated, such as mental, emotional, and potentially social and spiritual (not religious) questions. These are viewed as part of the whole picture a functional medicine practitioner may gather to recommend a protocol that will be successful.

Dr. Rudy Mueller, a functional medicine practitioner in Portland, Maine describes the equation as:

Environment + Lifestyle + Mindset + Past Experience + Genetics  =  Individual Health

With that in mind, doctors may want to know whether, for example, you or your loved one were born by caesarean birth, or had antibiotics in childhood. These may seem like long ago events, but in functional medicine, they have a bearing. These events affect the microbiome, for example, which is a key component of health. So, set aside ample time, and keep an open mind about the range of questions that are asked, so that you can learn how they may have relevance to your, or your loved one’s, health.

If you’d like even more tips for your first encounter with a functional medicine practitioner, read the “The Empowered Patient” by Jon Spade.

  1. Questions to Ask a Functional Medicine Practitioner,” by the Institute for Functional Medicine.
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