What Is The Difference Between Functional Medicine And Conventional Medicine?

Updated: Sep 2

Many of my patients find out what functional medicine is for the first time when they arrive in my office. Aside from a brief checkup every few years, interaction with doctors, hospitals, and emergency rooms are minimal for most people.

It is when a person begins to have symptoms or wants to reduce their risk of disease that they encounter the full complexity of the medical system for the first time. It can be hard to know what kind of doctor to go to when it is not an emergency situation.

a blue background with test tubes. text overlay that says the difference between functional medicine and conventional medicine. Dr. Brian Lum Functional Healthcare Institute

Different Doctors For Different Needs

There is still the idea in the west that there is a great divide between conventional medicine and traditional or functional medicine. As cancer treatment centers are integrating traditional methods of healing and doctors are increasingly referring outpatients to those in the functional medicine field, it is becoming increasingly clear that the two paradigms are not mutually exclusive.

For trauma related injury and life-threatening conditions (like a sudden heart attack or stroke), there is no place better than a hospital to rapidly stabilize a patient.

This conventional approach to medicine is also indispensable when differentiating a life-threatening condition from symptoms that are benign - which matters when you want to know if you are having a migraine or are experiencing the onset of a potentially fatal case of meningitis.

In other areas of health - like preventative medicine, long-term care, chronic conditions, and inflammatory diseases - the conventional medicine structure can be inadequate.

Many patients do not fit into the standard mold of a diagnosis. These patients can find themselves in a medical ’no man's land’ where they are not given adequate treatment - sometimes it is even insinuated that it is 'all in their head.'

There are many reasons a person may not be a good fit for an exclusively conventional approach. A person may not be able to take standard medication due to severe reactions. Some patients want to have a longer appointment with a doctor to learn the different ways they can prevent something like heart disease.

There are also patients who have exhausted the conventional health care system and wound up no better than when they started. Others do not want to take standard pharmaceuticals if they can help it.