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Functional Medicine Reduces Cost of Chronic Illness

Posted Jan 08 2009 3:08pm

Government data shows that 44 percent of Americans had one or more chronic illnesses in 2005. A report released this week in the journal Health Affairs states that chronic illness is responsible for about 75 percent of the $2.2 trillion spent on health care in the United States.

Though the average amount paid out-of-pocket for care is $889, patients with multiple or advanced chronic illnesses pay much more. An insulin-dependent person with type 2 diabetes, for example, spends about $9646 each year for insulin, other medication, testing supplies, and doctor visits.

The medical profession has embraced the concept of a medical home or primary care provider (PCP) to manage the treatment of such diseases and reduce the need for expensive specialty care. But students who participated in a recent survey reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association said lower reimbursement rates were one reason they had decided not to enter primary care practice.

Only 23 percent of the students who participated in the survery plan to practice internal medicine. Just 2 percent say they will enter family practice. Many also were afraid of treating elderly patients with complicated diseases.

A decrease in services soon will deal another blow to the system. Nearly half of primary care doctors plan to reduce their patient loads or leave the medical profession in the near future.

So where will patients with chronic illnesses find the help they need? Practitioners of functional medicine (FM) are waiting to fill the gap.

According to the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), practitioners of functional or systems medicine focus on preventing and finding the underlying causes of serious chronic diseases. This focus on early intervention and causes rather than symptoms reduces treatment costs, the primary target of health care reform efforts.

The principles of FM are not new. They are based on information that is widely available in medicine. What is new is that Dr. Jeffrey Bland, an internationally respected clinical scientist and one of the original founders of Bastyr University in Seattle, has integrated that information into a system that addresses individual patient needs and helps the body’s organ systems work together more efficiently.

Have you ever wondered why someone who has the same diagnosis as yours may have different symptoms, and someone with a different diagnosis may have the same symptoms? According to the institute, genetics, attitudes, beliefs, diet, and environment can cause the same set of imbalances to manifest themselves in different ways in different people.

Since Bland and his wife founded it in 1990, the institute has developed a series of training courses that quickly prepare clinicians and scientists to understand and utilize the information they need to address the health challenges of their patients.

The institute’s members practice in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. To learn more about functional medicine, find a practitioner near you, or sign up for training, click here to visit the institute’s website.


Jacqueline L. Jones is author of Unmasking a Diagnosis: How to get Help for a Confusing Chronic Illness Without Filing for Bankruptcy. The book is available through and will be available this spring through and other online book retailers.

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