In recent years, healthcare has undergone a shift from volume-based care to value-based care.

Now, everyone benefits from more in-depth, thoughtful interactions with their providers. This new approach has paved the way for more proactive pharmacy practices, such as functional medicine.

According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, functional medicine “determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.”

Combined with their extensive medical knowledge and patient relationships, community pharmacists are using the tools readily available to them to venture into high-touch care that transcends the idea of the average interaction at the pharmacy counter.

How Functional Medicine Differs from Traditional Medicine

Modern medicine is considered to be centered around symptom relief.

Prescriptions typically lessen the effects of the ailment but often do not treat the root problem.

In 1991, Susan and Dr. Jeffrey Bland sought a patient care model that was “systems-oriented” and “patient-focused” that could “reverse the growing chronic disease epidemics.”

The Blands are the founders of functional medicine, and today, more providers are embracing the practice. Rather than focusing solely on one specific malfunctioning organ, functional medicine examines the whole body and the factors that are causing illness. Then, an individualized therapeutic plan is created and put into action.

How Community Pharmacy Fits In

Pharmacists, especially community pharmacists, are positioned to excel in this aspect of enriched care.

Because they have the freedom to spend additional time and resources on their patients, pharmacists can go beyond dispensing to offer additional solutions aside from the prescribed medication.

Chronic patients are excellent candidates for more personalized care. They visit the pharmacy at least once a month to pick up maintenance medications, and pharmacists can use this opportunity to practice a more functional approach to care.

Mark Burger, PharmD and owner of Health First! Pharmacy and Compounding Center in Windsor, CA, believes functional medicine is part of the “new pharmacy.”

In an article titled “The new pharmacy: Revenue streams,” he gives an example of a patient who suffers from a list of symptoms that includes joint problems, hypertension, diarrhea, and atopic dermatitis — indicators of inflammation.

This patient would normally be referred to different specialists and practitioners, but a number of conversations with their pharmacist may be the solution this patient needs:

"Functional medicine practitioners ask lots of questions about lifestyle, diet, and medical and family history, to try to drill down to the reasons for the inflammation. Maybe they’ll order some labs you never heard of before. Maybe they’ll look at methylation pathways. Then, as these issues are addressed, through removal, repair, and restoration of function, the patient is (miraculously?) healed."

This new approach to care may seem unconventional to patients. As they learn more about the root cause of their illnesses, they will view their community pharmacy as the go-to source for knowledge and wellness.

The Shift to Value-Based Care

During this shift to value-based care, community pharmacy has the potential to move from the “pill for an ill” mindset to one that promotes long-term solutions.  

Want to learn more about how to incorporate functional medicine within your pharmacy? Michael Muñiz will be sharing how functional medicine became a profitable niche for Muñiz Rio Grande Pharmacy at Connect 2018.

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