Running a successful functional medicine practice requires many different skill sets, and expert knowledge of health and wellness is just the beginning.
Understanding the health history of patients, uncovering their symptoms and concerns, and determining a course of action to address the root cause – these are the most basic needs practitioners have to meet.
But growing your practice as a business means accommodating patients on many different levels, making sure they have the best experience possible. Here are five tips for creating a patient-centered space to grow your functional medicine practice.
Create a Comfortable Environment for Patients to Share Their Medical History
Functional medicine’s remedies aren’t the same as a traditional medicine’s, and your office should reflect this fundamental difference.
Instead of the drab, hyper-clinical look and feel of traditional doctor’s offices, a relaxed home-like atmosphere can help facilitate communication and trust between doctor and patient. A tranquil environment will help ease the patient’s nerves during the initial meeting and help them open up.
Try to create a dedicated consultation space at your practice specifically for first-time patients. A well-lit room with natural light is a great starting point. Adding a wooden table and comfortable chairs will help as well. Try to make the room as inviting as possible.
Functional medicine is a shift in perspective from traditional medicine, both in treatment and care. Creating a physical change in atmosphere that parallels the approach we take in the care of patients lets them know that they can expect something different right away.
Curate an Informed and Compassionate Staff
Functional medicine patients fall into a different demographic than traditional medicine patients. They are likely to have complex needs.
Sometimes they have frustrations that border on desperation due to a lack of success with conventional treatments. With that in mind, many patients seek functional medicine as a last resort.
As such, patients are likely to be the type to call multiple times to verify appointments and double check their prescriptions. That is why it’s important to have a staff that is nurturing and understanding. After all, they are a patient’s first point of contact.
Take the time to educate your staff on what the functional medicine model looks like as well as the types of patients they will see. Make sure your office administrators and assistants are aware your patients are here looking for something different. This will help create a personal feel to your office that patients will find comforting.
Promote and Complement Your Practice Online
As we mentioned above, many patients seeking functional medicine have already pursued other options first. When they reach out to you, they might be at the end of their rope. Because of this, it is crucial to make your practice as accessible as possible.
The first step is to create an online presence that clearly shows the patient who you are, what you do, what your training and background is, and how you can help. Providing preliminary access to paperwork and literature about the positive impact functional medicine can have on the patient’s condition will help them get acclimated before they step foot into your office.
Having this information online creates a great screening process for incoming patients and filters out those who sort through the info and decide it’s not for them. You can take this a step further by asking those who would like to schedule an appointment to fill out a pre-visit form with their cause for concern and medical history. This allows you to enter the first consultation prepared with knowledge about the patient.
You can also use your online presence to streamline communication. Opening a channel of correspondence with your patients via email goes a long way in maintaining a strong doctor-patient relationship.
Allow your patients to send questions and concerns about any treatments they’ve started. Responding to them in a timely manner to let them know everything is going as planned, or that they should schedule an appointment to discuss their issue better provides them with peace of mind and builds their trust in you.
Communicate With Patients About Testing
Patients who are new to functional medicine may not be familiar with the amount of testing that is required.
Whether you need a saliva test, urine test, stool sample, or blood test, it’s important to be clear about why the test is necessary and what you’ll be looking for in the results.
Furthermore, it’s best to facilitate any tests in-house. This is almost unheard of in traditional medicine where testing is usually done at a separate lab.
Instead of sending people to an external site with unfamiliar people administering the tests, taking the samples yourself will reinforce the patient-centered aspect of your practice. This also gives you a chance to explain the purpose of any tests and the different courses of action you might take depending on results.
Take Time to Educate Your Patients
Each time a patient leaves your practice, they should leave with a deeper sense of their health and physiology.
Once you determine what you think may be the cause of a patient’s issue, have a conversation and walk them through the causes and effects, and how you plan to move forward. You can use diagrams, handouts, and in some cases even videos.
Though this may go without saying, it pays to take the extra time to explain the ‘whys’ to your patients. Whether you’re prescribing supplements or recommending a lifestyle change, always explain the reasoning behind your management plan and the evidence that led you to it.
Remember, each of these recommendations is all about creating a patient-focused practice. The easier your practice makes it for patients to come in and feel like they’ve found an answer to a medical issue that they couldn’t find elsewhere, the more successful your practice will be.