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Making Money with Functional Medicine

Brett Sparks, August 09, 2016

As I practice consultant, I’ve recently been asked the same question: I love functional medicine, but how do I make money practicing functional medicine? To me, there isn’t a simple answer to this question, which reflects that functional medicine is still an emerging market. Basically, despite press releases and web site claims, nobody is consistently implementing functional medicine, (either because they don’t know how to consistently implement functional medicine or because they can’t figure out how to make enough money implementing functional medicine).

How confident am I in this statement? Well, show me someone in the United States who is expanding functional medicine practices exponentially. I know there are plenty of entities poised to expand, recruiting providers, readying the “practice platform,” and selling the public on the benefits of functional medicine, but nobody is rapidly moving from market to market opening functional medicine offices.

And nobody is offering a gold mine to functional medicine practitioners. If an entity could essentially mint their own money by opening functional medicine practices, wouldn’t functional medicine practitioners be in high demand and demanding high compensation? That isn’t really the case, though. There are entities looking for functional medicine practitioners, but the offerings really represent a lateral move at best in terms of compensation and, more frequently, require the functional medicine practitioner to sacrifice compensation or benefits for the opportunity to practice functional medicine.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t providers making money with functional medicine. Providers who have partnered with the entities interested in being one of the dominate players in the future of functional medicine are making money. Providers who have successfully converted established practices or market goodwill into functional medicine practices are making money. Providers who have identified and worked a market niche served by functional medicine are making money. But there isn’t one easy answer to making money with functional medicine, and nobody is probably making the money others imagine, (or that they represent).

I am reminded of the later from my time working for a medical malpractice management company. As the Director of Risk Management, I would visit physician offices and perform a practice assessment. With my background in primary care management, I routinely asked primary care physicians how there were doing financially. Almost every primary care physician I posed this question to had the same initial answer, “I’m doing very well,” to which I would response, “My wife’s primary care practice is a financial blood bath.”

At that point, the primary care physician’s demeanor would change. Their air of confidence would evaporate and they would begin to commiserate with how hard it was to make money providing quality primary care. Many shared my wife’s experiences with foregoing compensation to make payroll, sacrificing family time to support the practice and wondering with fear what the future would bring. And yet, the next provider in the same boat would again respond, “I’m doing very well.”

So I am sure that all of the functional medicine practices and functional medicine practitioners are doing very well, too. To admit otherwise would be to invite accusations of failure. Nobody likes to be on a losing team. Everyone wants to be on the winning team. The problem is that it isn’t clear who the “winning team” might be with functional medicine. As an emerging market, it is entirely possible that the winning team hasn’t even joined the game yet.

The one aspect of making money with functional medicine that is very clear to me at this point is that it isn’t much different than making money with traditional medicine. Functional medicine requires the same hard work, commitment and professional development that successful physicians have always had to invest. Functional medicine isn’t a shortcut to the lucrative practice of medicine; rather, functional medicine is an excellent opportunity for physicians to be part of an innovation in patient care that, I believe, will give them future financial leverage to either make their team successful or join one of the entities that emerges as the leader in functional medicine.

©2016, Brett Sparks, e3Business.