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What Is Functional Medicine and How Is It Different From Acute Care?

Most of the health care models that we are familiar with in the modern world are focused on acute care. Think about the number of emergency room visits and critical care centers that exist in every city, the rising trend of chronic rather than infectious disease dangers and the overwhelming statistics on poor nutritional, lifestyle and even mental health even in the most advanced societies. But a new model of care is arising from the dysfunction and difficulties that are inherent to the world of strictly acute care: functional medicine.

Functional medicine represents a new, holistic paradigm of preventative action, integrative therapies and a proactive, rather than reactive, system of care.  This type of medicine includes healing modalities as diverse as acupuncture and herbal medicine as well as chiropractics, reflexology, supplemental and nutritional counseling and massage. It shifts the focus from the disease to the whole person, from the symptom to the big picture. Functional medicine gives us hope for a naturally thriving, uniquely vital picture of health that is different for each and every individual.

The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Care

Acute care can be absolutely invaluable when it is necessary, and this type of treatment is a critical component to health as we know it. Without skilled surgeons and fast-acting trauma nurses, those who have been injured in an accident or are having a sudden stroke would suffer greatly. But acute care is not always the most appropriate method of addressing a health concern.

This is when functional medicine comes onto the scene. Instead of dealing with a problem as it is happening, functional medicine seeks to use integrative therapies to prevent health issues as much as possible. Even when a health concern is already in full force, this type of medicine can do wonders in treating the various aspects of the problem, in addition to working with the patient to develop strategies for future well-being. Since most of the the health problems that we deal with today are chronic before they are acute, there is now a distinct need for care that only functional or integrative medicine can fill.

Functional Medicine Treats the Whole Person

As complex, multi-faceted chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, thyroid dysfunction and autoimmune diseases are on the rise, functional medicine is being called on to examine the patient as a whole rather than simply a presentation of various symptoms. These complex health issues rarely involve just one organ or one part of the body. More often, they affect and are affected by the health of the mind, body and emotional and spiritual self and are completely intertwined with many different bodily functions. Functional medicine views each patient as an individual with a background, a story and a unique definition of what health, or the lack of it, means to them.

By addressing each patient on their own terms, functional medicine can achieve what acute care cannot: getting to the root of the problem. While many treatments in acute care can effectively manage symptoms, functional medicine can help a patient to determine what caused the issue in the first place, what they can do to treat it and how they can achieve long-term wellness in a way that works for them.

The Benefits of Functional Medicine

In addition to simply offering a viable alternative to the acute care model that is most commonly thought of as health care, functional medicine has a number of other benefits for both those who practice it and those who use it.

  • Many chronic diseases can be treated effectively through natural therapies such as nutrition, diet, lifestyle and natural supplements and products that heal the body without causing further damage to it.

  • Functional medicine pulls from a wide variety of different treatment modalities, encompassing many techniques from all traditions, ideologies and approaches.

  • Patients are living, breathing, complex organisms and benefit from being treated holistically, compassionately and with understanding.

  • Functional medicine integrates a strongly evidence-based approach to treatment with many other healing modalities that may benefit patients in a variety of ways.

  • The best of both worlds can be found within functional medicine, which draws on both the wisdom of tradition and the intelligence of modern science to create treatments that address the whole person.

  • Functional medicine puts the needs and desires of the patient first, while also emphasizing a strong trust and communicative relationship between care provider and patient.

When acute care lacks the appropriate tools or ways of thinking needed to deal holistically with chronic disease and many other common health concerns, functional medicine offers a novel way of thinking and a new, yet traditional, approach to integrative treatment. Combined with the benefits of acute care, these two ways of thinking about health can provide many solutions and alternatives in the face of the modern health care crisis.