Functional Medicine: The Future of Occupational Health Services

By Pamela Johnson, BS, CFMP, HHP, AADP, RYT

Pamela Johnson

Here is a great opportunity for leaders in occupation medicine to radically improve client health outcomes while reducing costs for client companies. Functional medicine is the new paradigm for treating chronic diseases as proven by the outcomes and expansion of the Functional Medicine Center At Cleveland Clinic, a national leader in health and wellness in the industry.

Integrating this innovative approach into your wellness initiatives and onsite/near-site clinics is the future of occupational medicine. Functional medicine is a“systems” approach to medicine that shifts the traditional disease-centered focus to a patient-centered approach and identifies the root causes of chronic disease rather than addressing an isolated set of symptoms.

This is in contrast to the current system in place that assigns a disease to a group of symptoms along with corresponding medications without having the tools to investigate the underlying cause of the problem. Therefore, disease management often becomes medication management with attempts at lifestyle changes that do not address the actual issues.

Traditional wellness and prevention initiatives also miss the mark, because they often do not provide the information or tools to restore health in the way that functional medicine-based programs do. The underlying cause of both minor and complex disorders is usually identified in the form of a nutrient deficiency, toxicity, food sensitivity, or infection.

Inflammation is most often the expression of these root causes. Once addressed, not only do chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity improve, but allergies, depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and gastrointestinal reflux disease (GIRD) also begin to resolve. Integrating a functional medicine-based program begins with a wellness education curriculum that teaches the main components of this paradigm: Environmental inputs such as nutrients, toxins, exercise, and trauma; energy production/oxidative stress; detoxification; and hormone, immune, structural, and gastrointestinal imbalance.

An array of experiential programs are also offered such as somatics that teach how to release habitually contracted muscles with gentle movements; a therapeutic movement that uses recycling movements to release stress and restore spinal agility; energy medicine that teaches how to manage stress through an understanding of the energy body; meditation, breathing techniques, restorative yoga, and an array of other mind-body modalities.

The next step is offering functional medicine-based challenges that incorporate action items and education that are built into incentives for participation. FM-based wellness programming teaches employees how to create balance and understand the connection between imbalances. With new information comes a new level of motivation and responsibility to modify lifestyle. Once employees recognize true nourishment has the ability to help bring the body into balance and resolve metabolic disorders (and usually all at once), they take action.

This contributes to the success of holistic challenges. Once the holistic wellness program is obtained, it can become the core of your onsite or near-site clinic prevention and wellness model. This can be done by adding a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (CFMP) to your onsite clinic to integrate with existing staff.

CFMPs combine health histories, patient surveys, and targeted lab tests to find interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex chronic diseases. Treatment includes consultation with a CFMP, targeted protocols, a lifestyle intervention plan, education, corrective dietary supplementation, and follow-up.

Imagine offering a program that actually begins to reverse chronic disease and reduce the need for medications. Functional medicine is growing rapidly across the country and is a model that works particularly well with occupational medicine objectives. ←Pamela Johnson, BS, CFMP, HHP, AADP, RYT is a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and Corporate Wellness Consultant who specializes in integrating functional medicine programs in corporations, clinics, and hospital systems.

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