Guest Post: Tara Viswanathan, Co-Founder / CEO at Rupa Health
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.
If you’re thinking about adding in Functional Medicine to your current practice, that’s amazing! We are excited to see more practitioners taking a stance for their patients’ needs and we want to help smooth that transition for you.
Here are the Top 5 Things to Ask Yourself as You are Starting Your New Functional Medicine Practice
1: What is My End Goal?
2: How to Incorporate Functional Medicine Patients into My Current Practice
3: What Do I Need to Get Started?
4: Should I specialize?
5: What Are You Going to Charge?
What is My End Goal?
Is it to create a global brand in the functional medicine world and oversee a large staff? Run an intimate one-(wo)man practice and be high touch with each of your patients? Or somewhere in between? Or is it something else entirely — is it not having a boss? Is it to be able to travel and see patients no matter where you are in the world?
Determining your “why” is the crucial first step that most people forget to do. It’s the single most important decision, because it will affect every other decision afterwards — from how much time and money you invest upfront to what marketing channels you use to whether you hire support staff or not.
Tip: Write out what you want your practice to be in 10 years. How this business integrates with the rest of your life. In as crystal-clear detail as you can. And then work backwards — where do you need to be in 5 years to get there? 3 years? 1 year? And then post these somewhere you see them every day. One tool I love is the Lululemon Goals Worksheet.
How to Incorporate Functional Medicine into My Current Practice
Marketing is the key to help you grow your functional medicine practice. In today’s technology-based age, you almost 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.
Tools You May Need to Get Started
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 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
- Webex for Healthcare
Tip: Try to incorporate at least some virtual visits in your practice from the start. Telehealth is skyrocketing in popularity and we’re seeing more and more practitioners going virtual. If you choose to offer in-person, offer virtual follow ups for patients. That’s where we’re seeing the majority of virtual visits happening.
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 Rupa Health. They are a wealth of information when it comes to specialty lab testing and have access to 20+ specialty lab companies under one portal.
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 some nutrition courses and you can explore buildable meal plans. They are commonly used by functional medicine practitioners because of their convenient and easy to use edit meal plans.
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. 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.
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.
Tip: Don’t be afraid of asking your patients for guidance on pricing. To determine whether you should do membership, packages, or pay per visit — come up with one option for each, and ask your patients which one they’d like to purchase. Giving more than one option also psychologically helps the patient make a decision in your favor — since instead of deciding whether they want to work with you or not, they are deciding how they want to work with you.
Free consults or questionnaires on your website can help bring potential patients in. The more a patient understands how you think and how you’ll treat them, the more likely they will be to work with you (if they’re a good fit).
We broke down the cost functional medicine MDs & DOs across the US are charging for their services in this blog post. Here’s the breakdown for naturopaths. It can also be helpful to look at people in your area to see what the competition is charging.
Wow, if you made it this far, I think you’ve passed the biggest test of them all – persistence! 🙂 Launching and running a new business is a lot of trial and error – continuously figuring out what is working, what is not, & being willing to adapt. Always ask your patients what they want and what they need because in this field, we’re ultimately here to help people!
And remember, yes, it’s terrifying to take the plunge and start your own business, but it’s also incredibly fulfilling!