If you long for a healthcare provider who knows you, your family and your healthcare story, you’re not alone. Both providers and patients pine for a more meaningful doctor-patient relationship. Fortunately, the healthcare system is moving toward a more patient-centered approach focused on prevention as opposed to procedures. Direct primary care and functional medicine practices like Traverse City’s Table Health are championing the movement by offering cost-effective, transparent and relationship-based care.

Featured in the 2021 issue of MyNorth Medical Insider.

Functional Medicine: Caring for the Whole Person

The philosophy behind functional medicine is the antidote to transactional, pharmaceutical-driven medicine. It aims to keep biologic systems in balance by treating the mind, body and spirit. Driven by developing a long-term relationship between the healthcare provider and patient, functional medicine focuses on the underlying cause of disease rather than symptoms alone. For example, it may focus on stress management or diet to remedy gut dysfunction rather than prescriptions that provide short-term comfort.

“We want to return to a time when the family doctor truly knew their patients and their patient’s families and incorporate modern conveniences and technology,” says Table Health Operations Manager Christine Straley.

Direct Primary Care: A Model for Flexible, Affordable Care

This way of taking care of people is new in the healthcare insurance world, but it isn’t new to medicine. Table Health uses the functional medicine approach in a direct primary care (DPC) model. DPC is an alternative to traditional fee-for-service third-party-payer billing and effectively allows providers to spend more time with patients and keep costs transparent.

DPC patients pay their physician or practice directly with a monthly or annual fee. This fee covers most primary care services, such as clinical and lab services, care coordination and consultative services. DPC practices suggest patients keep a high-deductible policy for emergency care or procedures such as a mammogram, colonoscopy or MRI done in another facility where insurance is accepted. Meanwhile, DPC practices work to reduce the burden of healthcare costs by practicing preventative medicine and providing 24/7 access to providers to triage patient needs and reduce the use of urgent care or the emergency department when possible.

“Our goal of direct primary care is to have cost-effective care that is transparent and relationship-based,” Straley says. “Because we are not bound by the regulations of insurance, we can spend more time with our patients, meeting them on a relational, emotional and physical level.”

How it Works

Functional medicine and DPC provides an alternative option to patients across the country who want more from their doctor-patient relationship. For example, someone struggling with underlying issues such as fatigue, depression and anxiety has the opportunity to learn more about lifestyle factors that impact health status. Together, patients and providers address the root causes of ailments through diet, exercise, stress management, body treatments and supplements.

“It benefits anyone from a 6-month-old to a 90-year-old. It’s a whole life approach,” says Table Health Provider Meghan Sarna, FNP. “Many of our patients are in their 40s and 50s, a high-stress time of life when we are often raising children, taking care of our parents and in a demanding stage of our careers. Stress is a huge driver of our health.”

At Table Health, every patient receives a one-hour first visit to establish a relationship with a primary care provider and begin setting goals. From there, the approach looks like a hybrid of what you might typically expect from a primary care doctor with added aspects that are unique to functional medicine. For example, patients may get lab work and an annual physical, but also receive regular follow-up with a health coach throughout the year. Depending on each patient’s needs, a team of licensed physicians, advanced practice clinicians, nutritionists, bodyworkers, mental health professionals, health coaches and movement specialists work together to serve each individual.

“When you see how it impacts people’s health and see them get better, it’s inspiring,” says Table Health Provider Andrea Stoecker, D.O. “I’m passionate about it because it’s actually helping people live better and heal rather than covering up symptoms for short-term results.”

Driving Lasting Wellness

Trailblazing health centers like Table Health serve less as a conventional healthcare provider’s office and more as a hub for health. They offer more than annual physicals and urgent care by supporting patients year-round with educational resources such as webinars, lectures and classes to empower lifestyle changes that have an impact on both day-to-day wellbeing and long-term health outcomes.

The trend toward patient-centered, preventative care puts patients in control of their health and aims to ensure they feel seen and heard. Innovative approaches like DPC and functional medicine practiced at Table Health meet growing patient demand for a more individualized healthcare experience.

“If people leave and feel that someone was empathetic, compassionate, responsive and listened to them, then we are doing our job, and we are doing something really powerful in this community,” Stoecker says.

Find this and more articles about health and fitness in Northern Michigan in the free, digital edition of MyNorth’s 2021 Medical Insider below; or Medical Insider in print each year for free when you subscribe to Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, delivered to your door each month.

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