Expert reviewed by Dr. Sue Kim
Clinical Assistant Professor (Affiliated) of Medicine, Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine
Many of our patients are looking for a functional, integrative, or naturopathic doctor who can also serve as their primary care provider (PCP). So is that possible or just wishful thinking? The short answer is - it’s wishful thinking.
In almost all cases, you still need to have a PCP. Here’s why:
They don’t practice within a larger medical group or have access to the same diagnostics and tools
Functional (FM) and Integrative medicine (IM) practitioners almost always operate out of a private practice. Your visits will generally be office visits, or meeting over a video / telemedicine call, rather than as part of a larger medical institution where they’re connected to other surgeons, specialists and doctors (like Stanford Family Medicine, Sutter Health, etc). Also, many FM, IM, and ND providers may work in practices where there is no “on-call” service, as most conditions they treat tend not to be associated with urgent situations or emergencies.
The exception to this is, of course, if your PCP happens to have integrative or functional medicine training and is able to provide both types of support.
They don’t provide urgent care or emergency medicine.
As stated above, FM, IM, and ND providers don’t generally treat emergencies or provide urgent care. They tend to focus on treating chronic diseases that have developed over time, or they work with you to optimize your current state of health and prevent future disease. They also have regular clinic hours and generally do not operate outside of those hours.
When to see your PCP over your functional or integrative practitioner:
- For more acute health issues such as sudden difficulty breathing, sudden severe pain, debilitating dizziness, bleeding, or traumatic injuries (in many cases, the emergency department (ER/ED) may be most appropriate)
- For standard preventive care, routine vaccinations, general check-ups (pap smears, mammograms, etc.)
- For other urgent health matters, after-hour health needs, or on-call physician access
When to see your functional or integrative practitioner over your PCP:
- For more mysterious & chronic conditions that your PCP or other conventional medicine specialists have not been able to address adequately or resolve
- For specialty lab work & testing that your PCP might not order (assessments for conditions outside the paradigm of conventional medicine, such as Candida or other dysbioses, chronic fatigue, etc)
- For nutrition counseling, herbal therapy, supplements, specialty therapies like acupuncture, creating a comprehensive lifestyle plan, and other similar types of care
Don’t forget - it’s not either/or, we think there are benefits to both!
Here at Rupa Health, we believe in the importance of both styles of medicine - traditional Western medicine & holistic / integrative care. Our most successful patients work with a variety of practitioners - for example: a PCP, an acupuncturist, and a naturopathic doctor. We’re here to help you find your team of practitioners.
Don’t be afraid to tell your PCP and your integrative provider about each other.
One mistake patients make, is not telling their PCP about their acupuncturist or not telling their acupuncturist about their PCP. While they might not always see eye-to-eye,, it’s critical you share everything with both practitioners to avoid untoward events down the line. Ultimately, to ensure that someone is checking for supplement and drug interactions or other adverse interactions(and also in some cases you may enlighten the other provider about the high quality of care you are getting on one side or the other), it’s in your best interest to share everything you’re doing with all your practitioners.
Confused about the difference between functional, integrative, and naturopathic medicine? Read more in our holistic medicine glossary.
References & Further Reading
What You Should Know About Primary Care Physicians (PCP), VeryWell Health
What Is Functional Medicine & What Do Functional Medicine Doctors Do?, Kalish Institute of Functional Medicine