Alternative, Functional, Holistic, Integrative, and Preventative Medicine: A Consumer Navigation


Recently, I have been in the throes of listening to one health summit after another. Starting last September I consumed three back to back summits on functional health, mental health and oral health. I learned a ton of information. From summit to summit, much of it went hand in hand.

We are one integrative whole, mostly made up of bacteria.

What we are not is a bunch of random, unconnected body parts that work indecently of the whole. Yet Western medicine would have us believe this is true. Conventional allopathic medicine reveals a specialist for every body part and a strict hands off credo along with a referral to another specialist whenever a doctor’s area of expertise is breached.

Aren’t we sick to death of this kind of treatment?

The functional medicine model is a new model of care stressing the root cause resolution of health issues with a focus on the whole person.

In October, I wrapped up my medical info binge by watching Ty Bollinger’s nine day docu-series: The Truth about Cancer: A Global Quest. I highly recommend it. I loved it so much that I purchased my own copy.

One of my burning questions throughout the series, especially after gathering so much information beforehand, was why anyone would ever visit an allopathic, conventional medical practitioner if their ultimate goal was root cause resolution? Why for instance, would anyone visit a conventional oncologist when they already know they are going to refuse chemo, radiation, and/or surgery? Why would anyone knowing their children could easily be taken away if they refuse conventional cancer treatment (pediatric cancer is a whole other bitch), subject their child to diagnosis by the the conventional system instead of seeking out an alternative, integrative, or functional medical practitioner first?

Why, why, why, why, why? My questions mounted higher and higher

If you truly don’t know any better, then you are subject to a broken system’s bullying and coercion.

Though none of the summit’s or the docu-series outwardly addressed it, there exists a disconnect based in pure fear between what some people say they want and the reality of where they end up for treatment. At present, there is a desperate need for greater numbers of functional medicine practitioners to bridge the gap and offer people real non-allopathic medical choices, no matter where they live. We will also need to establish a few strong-willed leaders down the path to functional, holistic healthcare to pave the way for everyone else. Personal choices will still abide keeping an integrative approach firmly entrenched. Practitioners will rise to meet the needs of varying types of medical consumerism.

James Maskell and Chris Kresser are two functional medicine pioneers working hard to achieve this goal.

James, educated in healthcare economics, is blazing a path into the automation of functional healthcare. Opening doors to the possibilities of an entirely new healthcare model because there is no point in trying to fix something so fundamentally broken as the Western medical paradigm. Building a whole new system is the only recourse.

Chris is currently rolling out a functional practitioner certification program with an ancestral nutrition component, the first ever of its kind to bridge the gap between conventional Western medicine and the strong need for a comprehensive root cause resolution, abides-with-nature approach to medicine.

But wait….

Both James and Chris’s programs sound like great news for the potential endless opportunities for practitioners but what about us consumers? Where does the average consumer fall in terms of affording the kind of care they seek? Historically speaking, functional care is very expensive and conventional insurance covers little to none of it. The question posed by a few perhaps well-meaning, perhaps not, practitioners is how much is your health worth to you? Or the ever popular statement as answer, pay now or pay later with your health. These pat answers are clearly in violation of meeting people where they are because the truth is if you cannot afford it, it is not available to you. Stirring up fear that a person will ultimately pay for their lack of functional health care with their overall health, maybe their very life does nothing to draw people into a system or bridge that aforementioned gap.

Functional testing is the cornerstone of the functional health care system. Root cause resolution requires practitioners to dig deep via testing to rule out and pinpoint to the best of functional medicine’s ability. These tests are often costly and there may be far more of them needed to get to the bottom of a health crisis. An uneducated consumer could find themselves thousands of dollars in the (w)hole for tests that they’ve never heard of or may not actually need in order to solve their health issues. An educated consumer is critical to the success of a functional system. Nothing incites education than

We need a better plan for how people can be expected to afford these services while the system is being built. Every single functional care provider that I have come across goes into this field because they truly want to help people achieve vibrant health. Some providers offer an integrative approach to their patients. I have an issue as to whether we can truly call these practitioners “functional”. Integrative medicine combines both holistic and natural treatments alongside conventional ones. It is easy to see why some practices are set up this way even though they may retain somewhat of a wishy-washy reputation. Since pharmaceuticals are still prescribed, it sets up a confusing dichotomy but as far as insurance coverage goes, it may be just the incentive a new functional medicine inductee needs to make the leap. But, does the practitioner value a natural approach over a synthetic one? Since there is no set standard as to how any integrative practitioner chooses to approach any one patient, how does a consumer establish trust? Are natural or conventional means used first? Does it completely depend upon the patient and their unique situation or are there pharmaceutical biases built into these practices? Are the words “integrative” and “functional” nothing more than a convenient marketing term in some instances? How can consumers weed out practitioners who aren’t right for them before incurring the costs of a pointless visit? Even some strictly holistic practitioners are rightfully suspicious of integratives who claim that natural medicine including diet and lifestyle are their first line of care but who also say they want to offer the “best of both worlds” to their patients. Again, an educated consumer is a must.

I hope that James and Chris take this into consideration when building their programs.

We know well now that conventional medicine in the United States is a sick and broken system that has absolutely nothing with disease prevention or health maintenance. We are in desperate need of a new system and this is an exciting time for functional medicine. Yet, many of us are wary. Is this new system going to be for the good of all or will it only be the accessible for a select few?

This is but one reason why in order for the functional medical model to work, patients have to take an active role in each and every stage of their treatment. Patient education is critical. These free forums, webinars, and summits are necessary ways for the consumer to learn all they can about the present state of their health and what is needed to heal the body and thrive. But, the information can often seem overwhelming and guidance is probably needed to some degree for most of us. That is why having a treatment goal is a requirement. Ultimately, we as patients are responsible for our health and well-being. We need all the education we can get to make our own decisions. Gone are the days of total passivity on the part of the patient as dictated by the conventional and largely paternalistic medical model? No patient in today’s age can afford that if they value their health. Insurance is no kind of protection from taking an active role in your health. Just because a test or procedure is covered doesn’t mean it should be done. Just because a drug is covered doesn’t mean it should be taken. Insurance is not equal to quality care. A practitioner should be a guide, a coach, a teacher, not the ultimate decider of the fate of our health. We as consumers cannot afford to outsource our care to another person who may not have our best interests at heart. As patients we need to reframe our current way of thinking. If a doctor or a service is not covered by our insurance we automatically settle for one who is. This is a ridiculous notion for those who value their health. We need to be a different kind of consumer in the new health model as well.

Consumers should demand to know how operating costs are kept down to ensure the best pricing so that more of us can participate in this system and not be priced out from the start. Payment plans are a typical point of bargaining when treatment exceeds the coiffures of a patient and is not covered by insurance. I have yet to see a functional, holistic practice make payment plans available to their consumers. I get that practitioners need to make a living and that offering a payment plan is taking the risk that you may not get fully paid at all however, this area is an opportunity to establish trust between the consumer and practitioner and could ensure enough goodwill to pay off in spades at a later date through repeat business and referrals.