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Functional Medicine Practitioner Spotlight: Dr Yusuf Saleeby

Introducing 3X4's groundbreaking State of Functional Medicine series, where we engage in captivating interviews with a diverse array of active practitioners and esteemed thought leaders. Join us on a journey to discover their motivations for embracing functional medicine, their passion for their work, the common misconceptions they encounter from patients, and, most notably, their visionary insights into the future of the field.

As healthcare shifts towards a personalized, proactive, and preventative approach, these practitioners are instrumental in empowering patients to understand their true selves and enhance their overall quality of life—an ethos deeply ingrained in 3X4's mission. Through this series, we aim to honor their remarkable contributions and ignite inspiration in others, encouraging exploration of the dynamic and exhilarating realm of functional medicine.

The following is an interview we recently had with Yusuf (JP) Saleeby, MD, Medical Director, Carolina Holistic Medicine and Director of the Priority Health Academy.

What can you tell us about your practice?

YS: The Carolina Holistic Medicine centers are located in brick and mortar form in two locations in South Carolina. One near Myrtle Beach (Murrells Inlet) and the other in Mt. Pleasant (Charleston) SC. We also have a virtual (Telemedicine) presence in North Carolina along with South Carolina.  

We opened doors in the Fall of 2013 and now have four advanced FxMed providers along with myself.  We offer services related to general functional medicine (FxMed) with hormone balance, addressing chronic illness, preventing chronic illness, autoimmune disease identification and treatments. We have a very deep interest in Hypothyroidism.

I have authored a chapter in a well known book on hypothyroidism. Adrenal issues are also addressed (HPA-axis) and once again I have authored a book entitled: “Wonder Herbs: a guide to three adaptogens” in 2006. The focus of this book was on the topic of how to address adrenal and HPA-axis dysfunction.  

In addition to treating most issues related to FxMed such as leaky gut, dysbiosis, mold toxicities we also address environmental toxicities. My society  membership includes that of the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) along with The Institute for Lyme and Associated Disorders (ILADS) where I acquired training with Dr. Richard Horowitz. For a while I served as one of the only doctors in the southeast to adequately diagnose and treat tick borne illness (Lyme and co-infections). I am also a member of the American Association for Restorative Medicine (AARM) and in the past member of A4M and ACAM.  My team and I consider ourselves super-generalists as we take care of the whole patient in a holistic manner in a wide variety of areas. We all practice a model of functional medicine that has been in development since 1998. I refer to it as reformed functional medicine (rFxMed).

What surprised you the most when you started your practice? 

YS: A big surprise was how difficult it was initially to open up doors and remain solvent. We went through some bumpy roads with tweaking out our cash-based model. Initially we accepted insurance in the hope of reaching more people, but the mainstream insurance model and medical insurance companies did not understand what we were doing and how we wanted to take great care of our patients.

It was impossible to keep a visit to only fifteen minutes, we wanted a non-rushed, time well spent and time that allowed us to dig deeper in our patients matters, so we terminated all our managed care contracts and went 100% cash-based.

We did manage after our 3rd year to become a sustainable practice and still provide affordable services. Following a micro-office model, we spend less on fancy digs and more on our patients, keeping our overhead down as low as possible to pass along these savings ultimately to our patients. After 2015 it has worked out to be a sustainable and profitable business model that really serves our patient base very well. 

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome as you built your practice? How did you overcome it? 

YS: Marketing Marketing Marketing.  We trudged through some horrible experiences with marketing companies.  We are currently on our fifth marketing company and finally hit the mark. The 3rd marketing company nearly put us out of business with their ineptness. One must tread cautiously with marketing “professionals or experts” that promise the world but do not deliver. It took us a year to recover from the mess one company made of our marketing campaigns. Not only was there no ROI (return on investment) but they cost us in huge fees and ill advised social media campaigns.

We have selected a digital marketing company with great SEO and put 90% of our marketing dollar into digital. 

We recently embraced some print advertising but the most productive has been digital for us. It will be trial and error for most new practices coming into the game, but hang in there and prepare for some major headaches as you navigate the seas of marketers to land one that will do an awesome job. 

What advice would you give to other functional medicine practitioners considering launching their own practice? 

YS: Make sure you have capital in reserve. In my EM years I put away funds for just the thing of starting my own solo practice.  I bootstrapped my new office in 2013 and never had to go to the bank for a load. We are dept free and had one of the best years ever in 2020.  Yes, 2020… in the midst of the COVID lockdown we did actually thrive where other medical practices faltered. Since we have well developed telemedicine/telehealth platforms established since 2013 we never missed a beat and went from almost 40% telehealth pre-COVID to 60%+ post-COVID. I was amazed at our success. 

In 2018, I established the “Priority Health Academy” which is a 501(c)3 non profit organization dedicated to advancing the learning of FxMed to advanced providers (APs, such as FNPs and PAs).  We host annual Symposiums (we are in our 4th year in 2021) and we are beta testing our first class of four students over the next six months to become certificate holders for rFxMed training.  Some advice from a financial perspective is don’t go it alone if you don’t have to.  Seek out a partner, another like minded provider to start a private practice in FxMed. 

Also from a clinical perspective, find other doctors and providers you can network with on professional levels (not business per se) to keep your sanity and to bounce issues off. 

Finally a business advisor is very helpful and it was critical to keep my practice afloat in the early years.  I joined a VISTAGE group and now am a member of TAB.  A business advisor and group of CEOs to consult with is immeasurably useful.

What excites you most about the field of functional medicine?

I firmly believe that Functional Medicine will be the salvation of the American healthcare system. Our current mainstream healthcare system is quite broken, unsustainable and actually quite unhealthy for both doctors and their patients. 

FxMed comes to the rescue and rFxMed is a more sustainable and gentle version that does the best job of keeping folks well and happy.  This is very exciting as I feel I am doing more patients greater good then when I worked in the acute care setting of the emergency department.  As FxMed develops and matures I feel great things will come of it.  I look forward to helping other providers embrace FxMed and get into it in a shorter time than it took me to figure all this out. 

Where do you see your practice 5 years from now?

YS: I would like to say I hope my plans for sustainability and profitability will come to fruition. I would like to see this model scale up and see more micro-office centers throughout the southeastern USA pop up with certified providers administering this type of healthcare on a grander scale. I would like to believe my business model, CHM and the Priority Health Academy lead the charge to building a hopeful future for patients and providers alike.