Health Care and Small Business & Startups

Family doctor opens functional medicine practice

Field of care aims to look beyond symptoms to find the root cause for patients’ ailments.

May 24, 2019
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Roots Medicine
Dr. Erica Armstrong, Kelsey Stricklen and Jenn Fillenworth, from left, see a lot of patients with with thyroid, autoimmune and female hormone imbalance issues. Courtesy Root Functional Medicine

Dr. Erica Armstrong left a role as a traditional family medicine doctor to launch a local practice for a growing type of alternative medicine.

Armstrong started Root Functional Medicine, at 50 Louis St. NW, Suite 614 in Grand Rapids, in October 2018.

While she was practicing as a family doctor, she began receiving additional training in 2016 for a certification from the Washington-based Institute for Functional Medicine, and she decided to create the area’s first physician-led functional medicine practice.

“The interest in functional medicine has grown exponentially, and most of the people who find me do so without any marketing at all because they're looking for this,” Armstrong said.

She said most of her patients had been seeking functional medicine, but a practice led by a physician was not available until now. She said many of her patients, who come from all over Michigan, were traveling to Cleveland or New York City and paying thousands of dollars to receive care.

The core of functional medicine is looking beyond symptoms to find the root cause for people’s ailments, using individualized care that focuses on the whole person, she said.

“We think of the body as connected systems, as opposed to dividing it up by organ type or specialty,” Armstrong said.

The practice uses traditional advanced testing, particularly for gut health and food sensitivity, and then creates a care plan based on how the patient feels.

“The ultimate goal is to help optimize health and wellness so that people actually feel better,” Armstrong said.

The care is comprised of a nutrition plan and Buddhist medicine, as well as focus on sleep, stress reduction, environmental toxins and gut health.

Even those who eat well often don’t have a diet that is diverse enough, she said, so the practice focuses on a well-rounded, anti-inflammatory diet personalized to the individual’s condition.

She said the practice exists to complement not replace primary care. Root is focused on long-term health, not routine physicals or acute illness.

As a physician, Armstrong has a background understanding of disease, and she is able to prescribe medication, though she said it’s not as common for her to do so.

She said the practice tends to see a lot of patients with thyroid, autoimmune and female hormone imbalance issues.

Armstrong said the practice likes to work with and coach patients for at least three to six months so they can see the healing process start to work.

Care begins by scoring symptoms, then tracking how the numbers improve over time. She said patients who have been dealing with chronic illness for years have seen score improvements by 75% or more after working with Root for a month. One patient who had migraines nearly every day has had only two this year.

The practice started with Armstrong and Kelsey Stricklen, a registered dietitian with a certification from the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy.

Jenn Fillenworth, a registered dietician certified in culinary medicine, recently joined the practice to provide a personal chef service. Different from a hospital dietitian, she prescribes food as medicine, Armstrong said.

Patients also can visit the practice just once for a wellness consult, which includes a lab panel and creating a wellness plan, for $590.

The basic monthly plan is $490-$575, and the plan including the personal chef service is $1,999 per month.

While insurance does not cover the practice’s plans, it does cover the lab testing.

Many people may have a goal of getting healthy, but Armstrong said they need a set plan to get them there, and Root can help them do that.

“The ideal patient is someone who is ready to make significant lifestyle changes,” she said.

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