Even though the United States spends the highest per capita on healthcare globally, we continue to rank 37th in healthcare outcomes among developed nations, and the rate of chronic disease continues to rise (1). Unsustainable healthcare-related costs, poor health outcomes, frequent medical errors, poor patient satisfaction, and worsening health disparities are pushing patients and healthcare providers to seek alternative approaches and solutions to solve this health crisis.
Clinicians choose to practice functional medicine for many reasons, but the transition can feel overwhelming when navigating the logistics of applying this model to their clinical practice. This article will discuss the basics of functional medicine testing and how to integrate it into practice successfully.
What Is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is a comprehensive approach to disease prevention, health, and well-being. It ventures away from the allopathic symptom-based system to treat the root cause of disease and restore health at the biochemical level by exploring foundational aspects of health and the individualized obstacles impeding optimal health outcomes.
By taking a more holistic approach to health, functional medicine doctors will investigate the patient's environment, lifestyle, genetics, and emotional state as potential contributors to dysfunction and personalize care and treatment to the patient's needs, circumstances, and goals.
Why does this matter? 60% of Americans have at least one chronic disease; 25% of adults have at least two chronic health conditions; and chronic diseases account for 86% of all healthcare costs. Functional medicine has the power to reverse this trend by providing better health outcomes and cost savings. (2)
What Are the Differences Between Functional Medicine Lab Testing and Traditional Lab Testing?
Specialty, or functional, lab testing is a collective of labs dedicated to providing diagnostics for a particular subset of human health. By analyzing blood, stool, urinary, salivary, and hair samples, functional labs measure biomarkers not routinely measured by traditional labs to provide an in-depth perspective into the spectrum of health.
Functional labs also use different reference ranges to distinguish between normal, optimal, and pathologic health states. A reference range is a set of values with an upper and lower limit for a particular lab test. Traditional reference ranges are determined by taking the average of a specific population, even if this population consists predominantly of unhealthy individuals. Additionally, these reference ranges often have a very large differential. So, while these values can detect the presence of disease, they don't provide much benefit for people invested in taking control of their health before the disease presents itself frankly on lab tests. This is why functional medicine tests use optimal reference ranges to report a patient's lab results.
Why Do Practitioners Use Functional Medicine Lab Testing?
Functional medicine practitioners rely on these optimal lab values to reveal meaningful patterns indicating biochemical and functional dysfunction contributing to patient symptoms and disease progression. These values help providers detect the body's warning signs so that interventions can be implemented to prevent and reverse the course of the disease.
Functional medicine labs offer a wide variety of testing specific to various health categories, including cardiometabolic health, environmental exposures, sensitivity and allergy testing, genetics, gut function, endocrinology (hormones), and nutrition. These tests help doctors deep-dive into the underlying factors contributing to health concerns.
Is Functional Medicine Lab Testing Covered By Insurance?
Insurance coverage varies by state, provider, and lab company. Unfortunately, many insurance carriers do not cover functional medicine services, as they are not considered "medically necessary" by current healthcare standards. This can make out-of-pocket expenses for functional medicine testing and care expensive, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Rupa Health is on a mission to make functional testing more accessible and affordable. All tests ordered through Rupa are offered at practitioner wholesale pricing plus a 7% service fee to include patient and administrative support. Additionally, three payment options are provided to support patients through the billing and payment processes.
For providers working out-of-network with insurance (i.e., using a cash-based model of practice), superbills can be beneficial to document necessary information regarding diagnosis, treatment, and medical services rendered during the visit and to give to a patient so they can submit it to insurance for reimbursement.
Where Can Practitioners Learn More About Functional Medicine Lab Testing?
Rupa Health has various resources to learn more about functional medicine testing and how to incorporate it into your medical practice successfully.
The Rupa Magazine is a collective of hundreds of articles written by trained healthcare professionals regarding pertinent information on functional and integrative medicine and business-related topics. You can subscribe to read new articles published daily.
Discover comprehensive and evidence-based functional medicine protocols specific to diseases and health concerns with Rupa Magazine's newest Protocols feature. These protocols are written by trained doctors and act as a framework for customized and integrative treatment plans.
Rupa Health Live Class Library
Rupa Health hosts weekly free live classes, where an industry expert lectures on relevant functional medicine-related topics. All previous classes are available to watch on the Live Class Library at your leisure.
Rupa University Bootcamps
Rupa Bootcamps are paid 6-week programs taught by an expert in the field to offer a deep dive into a specific health topic and related laboratory and evidence-based treatment interventions. Bootcamps combine pre-recorded and recorded live classes to complete the course as your schedule allows.
The 5 Most Commonly Ordered Functional Medicine Labs
If you're considering onboarding functional testing into your practice but need help figuring out where to start, the following tests are the most commonly ordered by functional medicine providers through the Rupa Health lab catalog.
Comprehensive Stool Test
As increased understanding and awareness surfaces regarding optimal gut health to whole-body wellness, comprehensive gut analysis with stool testing is one of the first places functional medicine providers will turn to in the evaluation of gastrointestinal symptoms, autoimmune disease, allergies, skin conditions, hormonal imbalances, mood disorders, joint pain, and nutritional deficiencies. Comprehensive stool tests include biomarkers for digestion and absorption, inflammation, infectious pathogens, and the gut microbiome.
Female Health Panel
Functional medicine providers commonly see patients with women's health concerns seeking alternative options for hormonal birth control to manage hormonal-related symptoms. Blood, urine, and salivary female hormone panels are available to measure sex and adrenal hormones and their metabolites to assess how the body makes and processes hormones.
Nutritional assessments are indicated for anyone wanting to be proactive in their health, screen for nutritional deficiencies, optimize performance, prevent advanced aging, and treat disease. These panels use a combination and intracellular and extracellular measurements to assess the nutritional status of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and fatty acids. These results help target nutritional therapy with diet and dietary supplements to prevent and reverse illness.
SIBO Breath Test
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another condition frequently treated by functional medicine providers. At least two-thirds of IBS cases are caused by underlying small intestinal overgrowth (SIBO), yet this condition goes under-recognized and underdiagnosed in the allopathic setting. SIBO breath tests can be performed at home by the patient to easily diagnose and differentiate between the various SIBO subtypes, which, when present, can cause a variety of common gastrointestinal symptoms.
Food Sensitivity Panel
Food sensitivity testing is another form of testing under-utilized by allopathic doctors. Functional medicine providers often consider ordering food sensitivity testing for patients struggling with unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, skin conditions, headaches, chronic fatigue, and joint pain to reduce inflammation, heal the gut, enhance nutritional status, and regulate immune function.
Now is a great time to start incorporating functional medicine into your practice. Functional medicine testing helps providers detect dysfunction before overt disease develops and personalize root-cause treatment plans to increase patient success and satisfaction. Rupa Health can assist providers in easily integrating functional medicine testing into their practices.