Team-Based Care & Functional Medicine: Improving Patients’ Lives

“Health is a large word. It embraces not the body only, but the mind and spirit as well; and not today’s pain or pleasure alone, but the whole being and outlook of a man.” – James H. West

It is an enormous responsibility to be tasked with taking care of the health of an individual. Physicians have known this since the dawn of medicine, but only recently has science begun to shed light on the sheer complexity of what it means to care for the whole person—body, mind, and spirit—beyond disease manifestation. Many Functional Medicine clinicians realize they cannot always do this alone, and as a result are transitioning to team-based care by integrating other healthcare providers, including health coaches.

“Health coaching is helping clinicians and physicians to transform their practice to use more of a coaching approach. It helps doctors to become more proficient and eloquent in empowering the patient,” says IFM educator Kristi Hughes, ND , who uses a health coach as part of her Functional Medicine practice in Minnesota. “So [now] we have doctors and healthcare providers who can go through a health coaching program and improve the art of doing good medicine.”

In the following video, Dr. Hughes describes how she became involved with the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, an organization that trains health coaches to work in a clinical setting. Dr. Hughes also enrolled in the program herself, so she could experience first-hand what a health coach would be learning.

Kristi Hughes, ND, founded the Center of Natural Healing Arts over a decade ago with a vision of providing integrated healthcare solutions for the public as well as healthcare providers both locally in Minnesota and internationally.

Team-based care is now recognized as an essential feature of high-quality primary care,1 as it has the potential to improve the comprehensiveness, coordination, efficiency, effectiveness, and value of care.2 For the patient, team-based care offers many potential advantages, including expanded access to care and additional services that are essential to providing whole-person care, such as patient education and behavioral health.3 Team-based care can also be considered “patient-centered” care—care that is relationship-based and makes the patient feel known, respected, involved, engaged, and knowledgeable.3

In 2014, the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing leadership on health care, conducted a series of interviews with patients to understand their perspectives about team-based care. Their findings indicate that many patients value effective team-based health care that treats them as people, not cases, conditions, or diseases.3 The patients’ stories collected during the interview process illuminate the fact that they want providers to be deliberate, or proactive, about transparency and shared decision making.3

One interviewer asked, “What do you think it would mean for you, as a patient, to be considered an actual member of your healthcare team?”3

A patient answered, “For me, personally, it is very important. I’m the consumer and I’m paying for that service and I’ve got to live in this body, so I want it to work as well as possible. But I need for the caregiver to take into consideration my lifestyle, my age, my socioeconomic level when they are formulating certain plans of care. And so if I’m not a part of that team, they can explain to me three times a year that I should be doing A, B, and C. But if that doesn’t [cohere] with my life or I don’t understand the value of that change fitting in my life, I’m not going to be a compliant patient.”3

When asked if being a member of a healthcare team is beneficial for them as a patient, another respondent said, “It’s the only way I can be a patient. I am grateful for the opportunity because if I had to have a relationship with a dictatorial physician, I would not have that relationship. I think that patients need to assume responsibility for their care.”3

At the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy (FMCA), Students learn how to apply core coaching techniques and the principles of the Functional Medicine and nutrition, mind-body medicine, and positive psychology to transform patient lives. Functional Medicine Certified Health Coaches work in tandem with clinicians to provide consistent, team- based care to achieve better outcomes and patient satisfaction. For more information about the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, please read the following IFM-authored articles.

Health coaching as a strategy to enhance your practice

Improve patient compliance and outcomes with health coaching

How to utilize health coaches in a Functional Medicine practice


  1. Wagner EH, Flinter M, Hsu C, et al. Effective team-based primary care: observations from innovative practices. BMC Fam Pract. 2017;18(1):13. doi:1186/s12875-017-0590-8
  2. Schottenfeld L, Petersen D, Peikes D, et al. Creating patient-centered team-based primary care. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Published March 2016. Accessed November 18, 2019.
  3. Okun S, Schoenbaum SC, Andrews D, et al. Patients and health care teams: forging effective partnerships [discussion paper]. Institute of Medicine. Published December 2014. Accessed November 18, 2019.

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