Over recent decades, the Functional Medicine model has gained traction across the healthcare system thanks to its promise of care that’s more effective, efficient, and long-lasting. But the Functional Medicine community is still fighting for mainstream recognition.
At the end of October, we celebrated a major win in the fight to transform healthcare: the high-profile Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a first-of-its-kind study on the effectiveness of the Functional Medicine model.
This mainstream validation from JAMA marks a new phase for Functional Medicine, one in which the model will gain greater awareness, acceptance, and even esteem from the conventional healthcare world—an “alternative” medicine no longer!
As of 2014, nearly 100 million Americans have been diagnosed with a chronic condition. The cost of the care these individuals receive makes up a staggering 90% of the United States’ annual healthcare expenditure, and for many of these patients, their daily life revolves around managing symptoms. Wellness hasn’t felt like a possibility for a long time, and many lose hope after years of specialist appointments and new prescriptions with no meaningful results.
Incidence of chronic conditions—diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disorders—is only growing. We need new approaches that focus on reversing chronic disease (and not just medicating the symptoms away) or our current healthcare model will eventually collapse.
THE PROMISE OF FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE
Since the 1990s, when Dr. Jeffrey Bland and Susan Bland founded The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), Functional Medicine has offered a new take on health, one that goes beyond the “sick care” approach found in conventional medicine. Functional Medicine is whole-person-oriented, putting diet and lifestyle at the center of the conversation and recognizing every individual’s unique body and needs. It’s preventative rather than reactive, often involving significant lifestyle and dietary changes, which translates to fewer sick people and reduced healthcare costs long-term.
FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE’S DEBUT IN JAMA
The article published in JAMA details the first-ever retrospective cohort study of the Functional Medicine model. This new study found that patients receiving care through the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic (led by FMCA’s own Dr. Mark Hyman), showed significant, sustained health improvements.
The measure used in this study to assess changes in health is the PROMIS global health scale. PROMIS looks at health measures over time, including fatigue, physical function, pain, gastrointestinal issues, and emotional well-being. FMCA uses the PROMIS in our own proprietary research on the effectiveness of Health Coaching; it’s a good measure of the kind of holistic health Functional Medicine aims to create.
Some key points from the research:
- Two-year study examined the question ‘Is the Functional Medicine model of care associated with patient-reported health-related quality of life?’
- Results showed that Functional Medicine patients exhibited significantly larger improvements in Patient-Reported Outcome Measurement Information System (PROMIS) Global Physical Health at 6 months than propensity-matched patients at a family health center
- Improvements among Functional Medicine patients appeared to be sustained at 12 months, though not significantly different from those at the family health center
- Study suggests that Functional Medicine may have the ability to improve global health in patients
WHERE WE GO FROM HERE
The significance of Functional Medicine appearing in JAMA cannot be overstated: it’s a mainstream journal, making this Functional Medicine’s debut as part of mainstream medicine.
It’s also a step forward in the continuing quest to build a body of scientific evidence that shows Functional Medicine is the real deal. Promising studies like this all but ensure that more studies will follow, and that is only good news for Functional Medicine doctors and the health coaches with whom they partner.
For The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, this is something to get excited about. As key players in the Functional Medicine collaborative care model, and as the agents of behavior change, Health Coaches are critical in making sure our clients’ transformations become permanent habits that improve their health long-term.
Historically, primary care physicians and other practitioners have struggled to incorporate Functional Medicine lifestyle change into their practices. They often feel under-equipped to effectively guide patients through lifestyle recommendations, or they simply don’t have enough time with their patients to give them the support they need.
Studies like this show physicians that Functional Medicine results are worth the extra effort upfront. We look forward to further mainstream research into the life-changing role health coaches can play in the collaborative care approach to managing chronic conditions.
When Functional Medicine takes center stage, our system will shift to a model that’s truly about healthcare (and not just sick-care). Join us in celebrating a huge step forward for Functional Medicine!
Beidelschies, Michelle. “Functional Medicine Model of Care and Patient-Reported Quality of Life.” JAMA Network Open, American Medical Association, 25 Oct. 2019, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2753520?fbclid=IwAR0ORQwEUnwY19mSDILZ6MGM8rvC-NCvbLg9RDlnebQPnZIO8KZBDhHt6V8.
“The Promise of PROMIS: Practitioners Help Build the Functional Medicine Evidence Base.” The Institute for Functional Medicine, www.ifm.org/news-insights/promise-promis-practitioners-help-build-functional-medicine-evidence-base/.