The functional medicine field continues to grow, largely in response to the growing awareness of a more holistic approach to health that emphasizes proactive care of the whole person. Many functional medicine practitioners have also expanded their reach with the increased popularity of telemedicine and virtual care following the pandemic, making functional medicine more readily available around the globe.
For many functional medicine practitioners who run their own clinic or virtual practices, it can be challenging to balance hours dedicated to patient care, recordkeeping, and follow-up with the “other” side of entrepreneurship - the business backend, marketing, content creation, bookkeeping, press and media outreach and other business-oriented tasks. It’s important to consider task delegation, technology to streamline your business, and creating space for your own self-care as a healthcare entrepreneur as well.
The Rise of Functional Medicine
While there’s evidence of the concept and framework of functional medicine going back over 150 years ago in the Lancet magazine, the field has evolved and grown primarily since around 1990. Functional medicine is a way of thinking about how to approach each patient with a “root cause” mentality rather than a series of treatment protocols. It encompasses the whole person, including their relationships, environment, genetics, and beyond.
There are seven main distinguishing features of functional medicine:
- The interaction between genes and environment is central to understanding each patient’s ability to function optimally
- Interaction between organ systems regulates health and function
- Nutrition, environment, lifestyle, and relationships can all send signals that create health or dis-ease
- Assessing a patient is focused on understanding not only their symptoms but also the triggers of those symptoms and the patient’s relationships to their symptoms
- Managing health requires multimodal treatments, as the body works as a whole
- Each patient is unique
- Health issues need to be looked at through the perspective of time and relationships
Functional medicine continues to grow as the demand for tools and strategies to improve health, nutrition, and longevity remains high. Current market trends show that niche markets, such as an integrative approach to mental health and the use of metabolic health monitoring, are also growing rapidly, highlighting the desire of many to be more proactive about their health and to learn how to feel their best both physically and mentally.
The Entrepreneurial Side of Functional Medicine
Functional medicine practitioners have many different opportunities to bring functional medicine to patients, whether it’s through 1:1 care, group programs, online courses, or supplements and other wellness products. The variety of ways to share functional medicine means that practitioners must be entrepreneurial in nature, creating a strong, cohesive personal brand around their functional medicine practice. Having a personal brand makes it simpler for patients to recognize and trust a practitioner’s product suite, and the identity of a personal brand makes it simpler to streamline marketing and business operations outside of patient care.
Embracing entrepreneurship allows for the possibility of scaling a practice beyond trading time for money in a 1:1 clinic setting. By sharing functional medicine knowledge through courses, group programs, and other products, practitioners are able to reach and help many more patients while also freeing up more of their own time for better work-life balance.
Maintaining the Sanctity of Patient Care
The primary goal of any functional medicine business is patient well-being. It’s important to have a mission statement and value system so that practitioners remain true to that goal and don’t get swayed by commercial or financial pressures and lose sight of why functional medicine exists in the first place. Prioritizing patient care and education - whether that’s through 1:1 support, group programs, or educational courses - should be the primary driver of any innovative functional medicine business at the end of the day.
Challenges of Wearing Two Hats
It can often feel challenging to “switch hats” as a functional medicine entrepreneur, having to move from patient care to a more business management-oriented role. Time management can be difficult, especially if you’re seeing patients 1:1 during working hours and leaving business and administrative tasks for other times. Additionally, the financial pressures of running your own business can add to stress, making the concept of “work-life balance” seem difficult to achieve at times.
Stepping into entrepreneurship as a functional medicine practitioner requires learning new skills in time management, how to delegate tasks to assistants or other employees, and getting comfortable with looking at financial data to know how your business is doing. These skill sets are not typically taught in any health or medical program, and it’s essential that practitioners take the time to learn and implement basic business principles to ensure a thriving business.
Integrating Technology for Efficient Practice Management
Efficiency is integral to providing top-notch patient care while also managing a business. Incorporating technology into practice helps to free up time and streamline the patient experience. Electronic health records systems can integrate with online booking systems and telemedicine platforms to keep patients’ records all in one place and make it simple for patients to book appointments, view their records, and communicate with their practitioners.
Additionally, technology can be used to automatically send out patient reminders for appointments or supplement refills and can be used to send regular check-in forms to track progress and keep patients on track with their health plans. Regular emails can be automated to nurture patient bases and provide value, ensuring a functional medicine practice continues to grow and thrive.
Last, the number of artificial intelligence tools continues to rise, providing possibilities to use AI technology to further streamline different aspects of practice management so a practitioner can focus primarily on patient care and education.
Continuous Education and Keeping Up with Trends
In addition to patient care and business management, healthcare entrepreneurs must also carve out time to keep up with the latest research and best practices in functional medicine to ensure optimal patient care. Staying updated as a functional medicine practitioner doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming, though - various functional medicine associations and functional medicine lab testing platforms like Rupa Health provide webinars, podcasts, and continuing education opportunities for providers to continue to learn and grow professionally.
Ethical Considerations and Best Practices
As a functional medicine entrepreneur, it’s also important to consider ethical obligations and best practices in both patient care and business management. HIPAA compliance and patient privacy are important to consider, especially when running group coaching programs or group functional medicine visits, making it essential to use consent and release forms if people are discussing their health in front of others.
Additionally, as many functional medicine practitioners become micro- or macro-influencers on social media in the health and wellness space, it’s important to be transparent in any content created that is sponsored or is a paid partnership to maintain ethical business practices. Any association with product companies or advisory boards should also be disclosed on any educational content or presentations to provide full transparency.
Balancing Entrepreneurship and Patient Care in Functional Medicine
Creating a functional medicine business that is aligned with the type of work-life balance desired is important for any entrepreneur who’s looking to run an impact-driven business without burning out. Using technology and sound business principles to streamline a practice allows practitioners to focus on patient-centric care without excessive stress coming from managing a business. Ultimately, harmonizing business and care in functional medicine leads to having a fulfilling career while also prioritizing patient care.
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