Digital health tools that continuously guide, monitor and, most importantly, motivate functional health patients help produce better health outcomes and greater chances of reaching health goals.
Leveraging digital tools to improve almost every healthcare service or process is already widely embraced. But the emergence of dramatic improvements in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) is creating even more advantages for healthcare providers – especially functional medicine practitioners.
Today’s digital and online tools are especially beneficial for functional medicine approaches, which are intentionally very individualized. His high level of personalization for each patient means that functional medicine must rely on high levels of patient engagement and patient participation in their own healthcare.
Today’s smart tools are helping functional medicine practitioners do their best work – and provide more attention to each patient – in a more efficient, automation-supported way. In addition, today’s digital health tools can help functional medicine patients reach their highest potential health outcomes.
The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) has led the way in setting standards for education, training, and clinical practice in global functional medicine. Its mission is to foster the widespread adoption of functional medicine, advance health equity, increase access, and improve the overall delivery of patient care. The IFM defines the functional medicine model of care as: “An individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness.”
Why Patient Engagement Matters
In functional medicine, both the practitioner and the patient must work together to uncover all of the possible factors contributing to a disease state. Functional medicine models typically look for multiple root causes for each disease state – which could be genetic, biochemical, or lifestyle factors.
The quality of this patient relationship with their functional medicine practitioner is often a key indicator of how successful the patient will be with long-term lifestyle changes that influence health outcomes.
The good news for functional medicine practitioners is that typical functional health patients tend to already be more engaged in their health. That’s probably why they sought out a functional medicine provider in the first place.
The right digital and online health tools allow both provider and patients to then take that personalized engagement to a higher level, thereby increasing the chances of success. In one of many digital health studies (this one published in the British Medical Journal) evaluating the success of patients going through a weight-loss program using the assistance of electronic health tools, it was found that the most important driver of long-term weight loss was a strong relationship with a healthcare professional. The tools used were effective to support this already established relationship, as a way to monitor behavioral changes and provide feedback.
Empowering and Maintaining Long-Term Lifestyle Choices
In most personalized treatment plans developed by a functional medical practitioner, the patient will be asked to commit to lifestyle and behavioral changes to address the root causes of their disease or chronic condition.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. For many patients, such lifestyle modifications are difficult to begin, let alone adhere to for a long period. The more significant and complex the recommended changes are, the more difficulty patients have complying in the long term.
When it comes to lifestyle changes, patients need…
- A strong support system
- Guidance along the way (the more, the better)
- Constant encouragement and motivation to progressively work towards their health goals
Changes like engaging in a healthy diet, exercising, tobacco cessation, and stress management are lifelong habits that must be altered and re-established. Patients who are already coping with chronic conditions may be overwhelmed and lacking the physical and mental fortitude to tackle challenges.
Clinicians can give their patients the best chance at success by carefully considering the following:
- Is the patient ready to consider this change?
- What might this patient need to give up in order to embrace change?
- What barriers could the patient face that might discourage lifestyle changes?
- How has this patient successfully changed behaviors in the past?
Top Functional Health Online Tools
With the right functional medicine software to support both the practitioner and the patient through this journey, patients can get the support and feedback they need to stick to the treatment plan and make lifestyle changes permanent.
Because functional medicine is so patient-centered and involves collaboration, the right online tools should be designed with the needs and context of functional medicine in mind.
Patient Medical History and Health Insights for Functional Medicine
Before developing and implementing a functional medicine treatment or healthcare plan, practitioners strive to develop an accurate and holistic understanding of each patient’s physiology, medical history and current health status.
This typically involves complete medical records, lab work and a detailed patient interview, for starters.
This has largely been the domain of major electronic medical records (EMR) systems. Unfortunately, the major EMR systems used by hospitals and health systems (such as EPIC and Cerner) are designed to cater to traditional medicine.
However, there are several EMR (sometimes called electronic health records, EHR) solutions available today for functional medicine practices and small medical groups, including…
- Calcium – patient-focused platform (patient app and provider dashboard) that gives providers access to patient lab results, EMR and patient history, with patient management and motivation pathways.
- Cerbo – designed for functional medicine practitioners
- OptiMantra – practice management software for integrative medicine practitioners
- Practice Fusion – acquired by Allscripts, Practice Fusion is popular with many small medical groups – practice management software for wellness professionals
- Practice Better
Patient Monitoring and Engagement Tools for Functional Medicine
Today’s patient engagement solutions run the gamut from patient portals and telehealth platforms to remote patient monitoring (RPM) and patient education solutions. A few have even dabbled in gamification and reward systems to encourage patient adherence to healthcare plans.
Modern technology enables care teams, especially functional medicine practices, to do more with less.
For example, patient monitoring in the recent past often involved having a doctor, nurse or medical assistant visit the patient, or at the very least call them periodically to check on their status and progress. Today, telehealth has replaced phone calls and home visits.
But all those methods still required a large amount of personnel time – for the nursing staff, if not the physician.
More advanced tools can increase both the quantity and quality of patient engagement, monitoring and management – without a large increase in the practitioner’s time and effort. In some cases, that increase in patient engagement and monitoring can actually result in a decrease in the demand for the care team’s time, especially when those tools streamline and guide the care team, as well as the patient.
Here are a few patient engagement and remote patient monitoring solutions now available to help functional medicine physicians and practitioners optimize the quality of their patient care:
- 10to8 – useful for running integrated email campaigns for patients
- Calcium – continuous 24/7 guidance of patients, with configurable “pathways” that educate, manage and motivate patients to stay on track, as well as remote patient monitoring that integrate with thousands of medical devices and apps.
- Cliniko – telehealth software that integrates with social media and email platforms to communicate with patients
- Quenza – designed by blended care practitioners to share customized interventions, with a strong focus on mental health
Choosing the Right Online & Digital Tools for Functional Medicine Providers
As a functional medicine provider or practitioner, you have a lot to consider when choosing digital tools to help with patient engagement, remote patient monitoring, and electronic medical records (EMR).
Here are some key points to consider as you select the best solution for your practice:
- Ease of use. The digital tool should be easy for both the provider and the patient to use. If it is difficult or confusing to navigate, it will likely discourage usage and lead to a less efficient workflow.
- Compatibility with existing systems. It is important to ensure that the digital tool is compatible with any existing EMR or other systems that the practice may be using. This will help to avoid any disruptions or difficulties in the workflow.
- Security and privacy. The digital tool should have strong security measures in place to protect patient data. This is especially important given the sensitive nature of healthcare information. Make sure the tool has appropriate measures in place, such as encryption and secure servers.
- Customizability. It can be helpful if the digital tool allows for customization to fit the specific needs of the practice. For example, the tool may allow for the creation of custom forms or the ability to track specific metrics.
- Integration with other tools. It may be helpful if the digital tool can integrate with other tools or platforms that the practice is already using. This can help to streamline the workflow and make it easier to access all of the necessary information in one place.
- Cost. Consider the cost of the digital tool, including any ongoing fees or subscription costs. It may be worth investing in a more expensive tool if it provides valuable features that will improve patient care and practice efficiency.
- Training and support. Make sure that the digital tool offers training and support for providers and patients. This can help to ensure that everyone is able to effectively use the tool and get the most out of it.
- Patient engagement. Consider how the digital tool can be used to improve patient engagement. For example, it may offer features such as appointment scheduling, messaging, or the ability for patients to track their own health metrics.
By considering these factors, practitioners can choose the best functional medicine apps and solutions to support patient engagement, remote patient monitoring, and EMR management. These tools can help to improve patient care and practice efficiency, making it easier for providers to focus on delivering high-quality care to their patients.