Building a Framework for Healthcare: Institute for Functional Medicine Part of Every Clinician's Toolkit

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 75% of healthcare costs result from chronic conditions.

By Alexis Lynn

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 75% of healthcare costs result from chronic conditions. About 133 million Americans, or nearly one in two adults, live with at least one chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, or arthritis. The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) is focused on the treatment and prevention of chronic disease. At IFM, there is the belief that every complex, chronic disease can be identified and effectively managed. The key to helping patients achieve wellness comes from understanding the origins of illness, proactive preventive strategies, and comprehensive treatment.

Functional medicine is a patient-centered healthcare model that addresses the unique interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors influencing both health and disease.

Functional medicine is a patient-centered healthcare model that addresses the unique interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors influencing both health and disease. Centered on personalized medicine that deals with prevention and understanding underlying causes of serious chronic disease, functional medicine represents a process of treatment on the cellular, organ, and whole-body levels. For example, environmental factors such as pollution and stress, lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise, and an individual’s personal genetic risk factors help functional medicine practitioners assess the body’s complex physiological processes. Treatments are designed to restore balance and health to digestive, hormonal, neurological, immunological, detoxification, and structural functions. “Functional medicine offers a model for assessing, treating, and preventing chronic disease,” explains IFM Executive Director Laurie Hofmann.

Founded in 1991 by Jeffrey and Susan Bland, IFM was originally established so the ideas and emerging research in the broad areas encompassing functional medicine would have the opportunity to be discussed by thought leaders in both the scientific and practitioner communities. Professionals in the fields of systems biology, biochemistry, nutrition, genomics, and genetics, for example, could come together to share information and ideas. With the goals to both educate and provide clinical support for the implementation of medicine across disciplines, IFM was developed as a systems biology approach to the prevention and management of chronic disease. Today, IFM continues to educate practitioners and provide clinical and research support for the implementation of functional medicine across disciplines and throughout the healthcare system.

Furthering its push for changes in the current healthcare system, IFM’s goals center on education, research, and collaboration. “The institute has really focused on making functional medicine the standard of care, transforming our current healthcare system from one that is really still focused on acute care medicine and shifting it to the needs of the 21st century,” states Hofmann. She explains that the future of healthcare is focused much more on the treatment of chronic diseases than the current model of healthcare. Hofmann also notes that one of the strengths of the IFM and the functional medicine approach is that it is “discipline neutral.” According to Hofmann, “Any practitioner who has been trained in Western medicine and the basic sciences really can find a way to apply functional medicine.” The programs are aimed toward a variety of disciplines and include a broad range of health professionals.

One of the ways in which functional medicine is unique, suggests Hofmann, is that it provides a model of healthcare. “The IFM provides a framework, an actual process for thinking differently about how to approach patients who have complex chronic illnesses.” Hofmann emphasizes that functional medicine’s real strength is looking at underlying causes, which makes IFM a tremendous support for clinicians from a range of integrative disciplines and perspectives. “It adds something very substantial to their toolkit,” Hofmann said.

For more information on the Institute of Functional Medicine, please visit


How does IFM approach today’s healthcare problems?

The Problems We Face

The IFM Response

The cost of managing complex, chronic disease will bankrupt the healthcare system as our population ages unless we help people maximize healthy aging and reduce their dependence on expensive drugs. The IFM trains physicians and other healthcare practitioners to identify and heal the underlying clinical imbalances of chronic disease, creating momentum toward health.
There is a sometimes decades-long gap between the emergence of research pointing to new treatments and their adoption by the practitioner community, particularly for nutritional and dietary interventions. IFM helps to shorten the lag time by emphasizing the absolute necessity of understanding the emerging research in biochemistry and physiology in the context of the clinical setting, with a focus on diet and lifestyle.
Health and disease prevention are largely the results of healthy living, but the healthcare system does not focus on lifestyle change or the underlying causes of disease. IFM helps clinicians teach their patients to make lifestyle changes that are essential to their future well-being.

Functional Medicine Values

Biochemical individuality describes variations in metabolic function that derive from genetic and environmental differences among individuals.

Patient-centered medicine emphasizes patient care rather than disease care.

Dynamic balance of internal and external factors.

Web-like interconnections of physiological factors. An abundance of research now supports the view that the human body functions as an orchestrated network of interconnected systems, rather than individual systems functioning autonomously and without effect on each other.

Health as a positive vitality and not merely the absence of disease.

Promotion of organ reserve as the means to enhance health span.

About the Author

Alexis Lynn is an editorial assistant with Natural Medicine Journal. She has worked as a report writer and research analyst for several market research firms in Colorado. Alexis holds a master's degree in mass communications and journalism from the University of Denver.