Physicians, naturopathic medical doctors, chiropractors, nutritionists, psychologists, and other healthcare providers must navigate legal and liability rules to successfully practice functional medicine.

Functional medicine is an approach to promoting health and vitality through prevention, early assessment, and improved management of complex, chronic disease by intervening at multiple levels to correct core clinical imbalances, and therefore restore each patient’s functionality.

Organizations such as the Institution for Functional Medicine and the American Functional Medicine Association teach and promote the development of functional medicine among practitioners including medical doctors, naturopathic physicians, chiropractors, and others.

According to the Institute for Functional Medicine:

Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.

Some say that functional medicine focuses on interactions between the environment and the gastrointestinal, endocrine, and immune systems.

Why do functional medicine doctors face legal challenges?

Functional medicine can be considered part of integrative medicine, with its focus on patient-centered care, review of lifestyle and overall health as well as disease, and integration of conventional care with complementary and alternative medicine, including dietary supplements. The approach is holistic and looks to inclusion of body, mind, and spirit.

The legal issues faced by functional medicine practitioners are similar to those faced by integrative medicine doctors and other integrative health care practitioners generally – as well as those arising when entrepreneurs build medical spas, aesthetic medical practices, collaborative practices such as those between medical doctors and chiropractors, and even concierge medicine and telemedicine providers. These include: standard of care / malpractice / informed consent; concern about potential medical board discipline for medical practices considered by experts designated by the medical board as not widely practiced in the profession; concern about scope of practice (for example, when a chiropractor practices functional medicine); legal issues around credentialing healthcare providers; and, where group practices of multi-disciplinary practices are involved, concern about anti-kickback and fee-splitting legal issues.

Contact a healthcare lawyer experienced with setting up a functional medicine or integrative medicine practice to strategize about reducing liability exposure, while building a healthcare clinical care team that truly supports patient care.
The Michael H. Cohen Law Group provides San Francisco / Bay Area California healthcare law and FDA legal expertise. Contact our functional medicine lawyers today.