Let’s start by saying, anyone in the field of healthcare likely began their journey because they wanted to help people. Providers want to help you. They spend thousands of dollars and many years in school educating themselves to help YOU. So, just as we hope nobody does to us, let’s not put any providers in a box, even if you’ve had a bad experience or two.
Fortunately, there is a movement starting in schools to provide more education on nutrition and lifestyle. However, many providers did not receive education on the power of food and lifestyle, so they simply don’t know how to teach that to their clients (or know that it even matters).
The amount of attention any provider will put on food and lifestyle varies based on their education and their personal and clinical experience. If you have a provider who listens to you and works with you, be sure to thank them for that! If you find yourself getting frustrated because you are not being heard by your provider, this article will provide some suggestions for how to communicate with a current provider, or how to find a new one.
Understand the system you’re working with
Often, when a client approaches a provider with a list of requests, it can be overwhelming for a provider who may not speak that nutrition or ‘natural approach’ language. Keep it simple with a few main points per appointment (aim for 3).
To add some other factors, the healthcare system is set up in a way that has the average provider spending less than 25 minutes with a client (1). That doesn’t allow much time for discussion. Additionally, under the U.S. healthcare system with insurance company payers, there are rules providers must follow. If they order certain labs without a certain diagnosis code, they are practicing outside of those rules. For example, a lab request for fasting insulin or vitamin B12, must also come with a ICD-10 diagnosis code, and if you’re not presenting with symptoms that warrant those tests (let’s say you have a skin rash), the insurance company may deny paying for it. If your doctor isn’t willing to order for those reasons, it’s helpful to know why. They may not see the connection between a skin rash and those labs and they don’t want you stuck with an unexpected bill.
Consider asking your doctor to write an order for the tests you want and tell them you are willing to pay cash to have the tests done (you just need their order). You can call your insurance or Labcorp to gather information on out-of-pocket costs (or visit www.directlabs.com). If you pay cash, you do not have to have a diagnosis code.
For these 2 reasons (time and money), many providers are turning to a cash-based practice where they have time to talk with people, time to research for clients and time to read an article on updated science. While this can be a bummer for those who want to go through insurance, it also has major advantages.
Now remember, getting the labs is step one, but knowing what to do with them is a very important next step. You may want to consider working with an Integrative or Functional Medicine provider who is well-versed in the tests and can provide guidance with the results. More information on that below.
Use the right lingo
If you enter the doctor’s office and start using language that is not supported by science, you may not be fully heard. To avoid that, just switch a few words and take yourself up a level in the science world. Here are some vocabulary swaps:
- Avoid “adrenal fatigue” and use “HPA axis dysfunction”
- Avoid “estrogen dominance” and use “elevated estrogen or low progesterone”
- Avoid “leaky gut” and use “intestinal permeability”
You own your health so if something is unclear, ASK! This also pulls the provider into the conversation which is better than just telling them what to do.
- If you’re not getting your period, ask, “Instead of taking birth control, what are some reasons I might not be getting my period, and are there ways to work on bringing it back naturally?”
- If you’re vegan, “Can you please check my levels of iron, ferritin, zinc and B12 since I’m at great risk for deficiency?”
- If you’re losing hair, “Can you run a full thyroid panel and iron levels on me to see if those are possible reasons for my hair loss?”
- If you have a family history of cardiac issues, “I’d like to prevent cardiac issues, can you order homocysteine, hs-CRP, and an advanced lipid panel so I can get an idea of where I’m at?”
- They recommend iron because your iron labs were low, “Can you tell me some reasons why my iron may be low, beyond just diet?”
Get records of your labs
Always get a copy of your test results. There are different views on “normal labs” and you want to be able to look at those yourself or take them to another provider, if necessary. This is common for thyroid, cardio and immune system markers like vitamin D. The “normal” range is different than the “optimal” range that many functional medicine providers would prefer.
When to find a new provider
- If you’re being pressured to take medications that you don’t feel comfortable taking.
- If they’re refusing to work with you to investigate the root of your symptoms.
- If they refuse to order labs that you have researched and are willing to pay for.
- If they laugh, cough or scoff at you for wanting to try nutrition and lifestyle changes.
- If you are wanting advanced testing done that your doctor does not run or is unfamiliar with (common with functional medicine type testing–food sensitivities, nutrients, heavy metals, certain types of hormone testing).
There are many fabulous providers to partner with on your health journey, even those without integrative or functional medicine training. If they are willing to work with you and you are willing to research on your own too, you will be a great team! If you are seeking an Integrative or Functional Medicine provider, resources are listed below.
Integrative & Functional Medicine Providers