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Building Affiliations in Functional Medicine Practice

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Functional Medicine

A few months back I promised to discuss this topic a bit more, discussing the ways affiliations can be built, maintained and expanded in functional medicine practices. Let’s start with a few of the basics.

The primary combination of a good nutritionist and an FM doc is an absolutely “must have” for any functional medicine practice. Nutritionists don’t have to have an FM certification but need to be working in that direction; same with a doc if they don’t have an FM certification.

These two must get comfortable with each other to form an affiliation: More than just sharing referrals, the combination must be part of a clinical practice that is dedicated to expanding the patient experience and overall patient wellness. In my opinion, this is one of the most critical question to ask, and the answer has to be YES.

With this accomplished, the affiliates (I don’t want to use the word “partner” because it has an array of legal meaning) need to talk about their vision for creating this relationship, and discuss in detail their vision for the practice and its patients. Look down the road--Where would you like to be in 12 months? 18? 24??

What’s most important is that you have a frank, open conversation about these topics. Don’t think it will happen in one meeting. Outline everything you can think of that would involve your new “affiliate” And don’t leave any questions unanswered. Write it all down. Diagram it out. Detail it in great depth.

Remember, on top of all of this is that commitment to improving the patient experience. This is always true of any affiliation you build—the patient experience has to be foremost in your mind, with patient satisfaction and wellness a number one priority. FM patients want a holistic, overall assessment of their problems, and the experience they are looking for is very different from that of traditional medicine, which tends to deal only with one clinical problem at a time and can be much more fragmented. The larger, successful FM practices have the vision of a “one stop” shop in many ways, everything a patient can need combined, as much as possible, under one roof.

This planning process is extremely important, because it sets the parameters for budgeting and integration. There are a number of different financial and operational models, but all are based in large part on who contributes what—EHR platform, phone system, clerical staff, billing system, marketing costs, leased space, etc.—and then what needs to be purchased. For example, you should have one EHR system to create complete patient record, and one billing system that can add information to the latter. And you have to look at pricing, taking insurance vs. cash only, etc. This is a more complex problem that I’ll expand upon in a future blog entry. This is where a consultant can be of great value in helping you align the financial and operational aspects of the now, and then further down the road as you reach to complete your vision.

The best FM practices plan for growth, and work to expand the patient experience, in a logical and sustainable way. They are always looking beyond the now, planning for growth, including the costs of growth. They are continuously asking questions about how to help the practice grow and be more comprehensive for the patients.

But as you start this process of affiliating, remember, it’s a medical practice. It’s also a business. Synching these two elements up is critical, with both having equal importance. More on that down the line when I’ll look at one or two specific areas of planning for growth. ---Tom Ellis III

Tom has been a healthcare consultant in the North Texas area for over twenty years, and has worked with a variety of clients, focusing on physicians. More information on Tom can be found at


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