How to Start a Functional Medicine Practice

by 
Dr. Shawn Greenan
How to Start a Functional Medicine Practice

Now is an exciting time for Functional Medicine Practitioners. What was once considered “alternative” is now becoming mainstream medicine as more and more patients seek answers to their chronic health conditions.
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If starting a functional medicine practice intrigues you, we are more than excited to help you find your path to get there.  The most common routes are continuing education courses, live seminars, and post graduate certification in Functional Medicine or Functional Nutrition.

Eligibility

Before we dive into this article, we want to make it clear that you do not have to be certified in functional medicine to start ordering specialty labs if you are a healthcare provider. If the thought of starting a completely new program stresses you out, don’t worry; you are not alone. We know you have a lot on your plate, so Rupa Health has recently launched free live courses that highlight specialty labs, nutrition, and business hacks, to help practitioners learn on their own time.

If you are interested in becoming a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, common eligibility criteria across all training institutions are similar; requiring a master’s to doctorate level degree in a health-related field with one of the following credentials: Medical Doctor, Doctor of Osteopathy, Doctor of Chiropractic (DC), Naturopathic Doctor (ND), Dentist, Nurse Practitioner (NP), Acupuncturist (LAc), Pharmacist, mental health professional, or an equivalent degree from countries outside of the US.

Physician Assistant (PA), Registered Nurse (RN), Registered Dietitian (RD), Occupational Therapist (OT), and Physical Therapist (PT) must hold at least a bachelor’s level degree in their field as long as their education was completed prior to the entry-level education change. (1)

If you do not fit one of the above criteria but want to learn more, you can look at the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy (IFNA), which accepts a broader range of students looking to advance their functional nutrition knowledge.  (2)

Tools You May Need to Get Started

EMR

Many functional medicine practitioners utilize an Electronic Medical Record (EMR). Most EMR’s have integrations with labs, supplement companies, telehealth, and insurances to help keep everything in one place. Integrating an EMR into your practice will enable you to spend more time with patients and less time managing your day-to-day processes.

Some key features you will want to make sure your EMR has:

  • HIPPA compliant, customizable intake forms
  • Scheduling software
  • Supplement Integrations
  • HIPPA compliant Telehealth platform

Telehealth

Telehealth plays a significant role in a functional medicine practice. When you are first starting out, you don’t want to limit yourself to only your surrounding zip code. Depending on your license and your state’s regulations, you will have two options. Either you can see patients in your licensed state or see patients anywhere in the world. This regulation is based on your current healthcare license. For example, acupuncturists in Florida who are also functional medicine providers can only see patients in the state of Florida (the extended FM certification does not allow them to see patients outside of their state.) But that’s ok; a whole state is still millions of potential new patients, and telehealth will give you access to all of them.

If your EMR doesn’t come with telehealth, don’t stress. There are a lot of HIPPA compliant options out there, including:

  • Zoom for Healthcare
  • Doxy.me
  • Webex for Healthcare
  • GoToMeeting

Labs

Functional labs give you options outside of the standard wellness checkup to take a deeper look into what is going on with your patient. Labs also help patients with compliance. There is a big difference between telling a patient to cut out gluten and physically showing them how gluten affects their body. If you are just getting started with functional medicine labs and not quite sure what to order, we suggest checking out some of the frequently bundled labs our current Rupa Health practitioners are using. You can narrow it down by specialty or see which are the most commonly prescribed. Variety is key, so make sure you check out the 200+ labs we have under our practitioner dashboard and start building bundles yourself. And don't forget to reorder labs. Reordering helps you keep track of your patient’s health over time. Most practitioners will reorder labs 6 to 12 weeks out from the time patients start their healing protocols.

Nutrition

Just as important as labs, nutrition is a go-to prescription for most patients under a functional provider’s care. We all know gut health plays a massive role in healing, and proper nutrition is key. Most functional medicine programs will highlight nutrition throughout the training. Still, if you are feeling a little rusty about your nutrition knowledge, we recommend checking out our free nutrition courses, IFNA, or The Better Nutrition Program.  

Supplement Dispensary

While nutrition should be the first line of defense, there will be times where you will need the help of high-quality supplements to address the root issue. FullScript and Wellevate are the most common supplement dispensaries used by integrative practitioners. They allow you to quickly drop-ship any needed herbs or supplements to your patients. Just like lab bundles, you can also set up supplement bundles or protocols in your dispensaries and check out other practitioners’ supplement protocols to give you an idea of where to start.

Are You Going to Specialize

This is a crucial question functional medicine practitioners need to ask themselves. You don’t have to decide upfront, but eventually, you need to consider what you want to be known for. Do you want to specialize in gut health, thyroid, autoimmune, or maybe tackle it all? Whatever you choose, keeping your training up to date is going to be essential in treatment outcomes.

Perhaps you specialized in GI health but are starting to see an influx of thyroid cases being referred to you. That’s awesome, and we want to help. Anytime you want to learn a little more, jump over to our magazine, which is filled with articles to help guide you, case studies to help expand your knowledge, and free live classes to keep up with the changing times. If you want to get a general overview of functional medicine, a certification might be best for your needs.

Content & Marketing

Marketing is the key to help you grow your practice. In today’s technology-based age, you have to be actively online for patients to find you. You can start a blog on your website, post to social media, or create a weekly wellness magazine. We suggest finding one platform and sticking with it until you grow your audience, so you are not overwhelmed. If you already have patients, having handouts on functional medicine in your office can help get the conversation going on what services you offer. Just make sure you separate your current specialty from your functional medicine specialty appointments. Most practitioners start by setting aside one day a week to market and take appointments.

If you aren’t good with coming up with content yourself, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to easily click and share any of our content to help draw in more interest or share our case studies with patients who need to learn a little more about their diagnosis.

Cost of Functional Medicine

This is a tricky subject. You need to ask yourself what you are going to offer. While we can’t tell you what your time is worth, we can give you some examples of what other practitioners are doing. Your pricing depends on many factors - your location, training, and demand for your services. However, telemedicine is changing the game and can bring down the cost of running your business and enable you to see more patients, bringing in more income.

Most functional medicine practitioners sell their services in bundles or packages. You can choose to charge separately for initial 1:1 appointments, lab work, supplements, and follow-up appointments. Or you can decide to make this a bundle. From the data we have collected, most providers opted for bundles, packages, or a minimum number of visits to establish a relationship with a patient.

Patients

All the above is good information, but it does you no good if you don’t have patients, right? Don’t worry; we have you covered. We listen to our providers, and the number one reason practitioners tell us they haven’t started their functional medicine practice is the lack of patients. So, we remedied that problem by launching a Find a Practitioner Near Me option. If you are a Rupa Health practitioner, you automatically get added to our list. This way, when a patient reaches out to us, we know exactly who to send them to! 🤩

Summary

Ok, so now you have the tools to get started with your functional medicine practice, and you may be feeling overwhelmed. That’s ok; it’s perfectly fine to start small. Test out the waters. There is no harm in just wanting to learn more. A great place to start is to sign up with Rupa Health. Check out our magazine, sign up for one of our upcoming free live classes, or watch any of our past recorded episodes. We have a lot more coming in the works because we want to help make this medicine more easily accessible to everyone!

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References

Dr. Shawn Greenan
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Website
Acupuncture Physician
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