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The State Of Functional Medicine 2020: Insights From Lexi Watson

3X4’s new State of Functional Medicine series features interviews with a diverse range of active practitioners and established thought leaders to learn more about why they chose the field of functional medicine, what excites them most about their work, the most common misconceptions they hear from patients, and most importantly — how they see the field evolving in the years ahead as healthcare shifts to be more personalized, proactive, and preventative. 

Functional medicine practitioners play a key role in helping patients understand who they are so they can improve their quality of life which is what we’re all about here at 3X4. Our goal with this new series is to celebrate the work these practitioners are doing and inspire others to explore the exciting field of functional medicine.

The following is an interview we have recently had with Lexi Watson, Functional Medicine Pharmacist, Director of Clinical Programs, River City Pharmacy.

Why did you decide to make functional medicine your focus?

LW: I’m a community pharmacist who started out working for a big chain pharmacy. I loved getting to know my patients, but I never saw anyone actually getting better. Their original symptoms may have been under control and their doctors said they were doing good, but they were just taking medications that usually caused more problems. I never saw a patient come off a medication once they were put on one. Ever. It hit me hard that the medications I was dispensing allowed my patients to simply mask the real cause of their problems; the real issues weren’t getting addressed and eventually they’d have to increase a dose or add another medication to keep the symptoms at bay. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to change that, but I started doing some research and stumbled upon some notes I had taken on functional medicine from a shadowing experience as a student. I had jotted down a few things about finding the root cause and providing the body what it needs to heal itself. The best part was that I didn’t have to be a doctor to practice functional medicine since the focus is on optimizing body function and a foundational lifestyle. That was the answer I’d been looking for. Long story short I’ve been studying functional medicine ever since and started my practice a year ago. I’m happy to say I don’t have that feeling that I can’t help my patients anymore and it’s wonderful. Several of my patients have even been able to come off several of their medications!

Who have been your greatest mentors in your functional medicine journey? 

LW: My biggest mentor and cheerleader has been Terry Wingo. I first shadowed him as a student in pharmacy school and have grown to rely on his wisdom and experience as I establish my own practice.

What excites you most about your day to day work? 

LW:What excites me most is seeing the joy on my patients’ face when they tell me they’ve stopped having this symptom, lost weight, or come off a medication they never thought they would. It is so incredibly rewarding to see people actually get better.

What’s the most challenging part of your day to day work? 

LW: I’d say the most challenging part of what I do is running a cash-based business. As a pharmacist I am not used to charging for my knowledge. I struggle with charging what I should for my services. It’s difficult to find the balance of a fair price so I can stay in business while trying to make my services affordable for my patients. 

What do patients most commonly get wrong about functional medicine? 

LW: Despite my efforts to explain that rebalancing the body to optimize function takes time, patients most commonly get frustrated that functional medicine is not a quick fix. It has taken an entire lifetime to get to the point of health a patient is at when they come see me. And since I run a cash-based business, my patients are the sickest of the sick. When a body is in such dysfunction, it takes time to restore function. What is time? For some it may be weeks, others months, and still others years. Regardless of where someone starts though, the journey never ends. Life will always throw something at the body to cause dysfunction. The foundational lifestyle and balancing that the functional medicine approach provides sets the body up to be able to resist “life” and not fall back into such dysfunction as before.

What’s holding the field of functional medicine back? 

LW: The biggest issue that comes to mind is insurance. Most insurances do not pay for functional medicine consultations because they consider it a “preventative service.” They don’t pay for functional labs and certainly don’t help pay for supplements. These things are not necessary for the practice of functional medicine, but they make the journey easier for the patient, allow their treatment to be tailored, and help restore function faster. Many of my patients are so ready to start feeling better that they pay for anything they need to achieve that. Most of my patients, however, are not financially able to run functional lab testing or even afford more than a few supplements to start restoring function. For these patients, the results they so desperately need come much slower and they often get discouraged and quit. That is so heartbreaking when it happens because I know how much a functional medicine approach can help. I believe insurance will eventually pay for these services, but the change will be slow.

What has your experience been with genetic testing? 

LW: I don’t routinely use genetic testing as the majority of my patients are very budget conscious and there are usually other labs that are more vital to solving their puzzle. However, I don’t doubt as those services become more affordable that it will be a regular part of my practice in the future.

How do you see the practice of functional medicine evolving in the years ahead? 

LW: I truly believe that functional medicine is the future of healthcare. Addressing the root causes of disease seems like a simple, straightforward answer, but it requires more thought and time with patients than is currently spent in healthcare and is just not how healthcare professionals are taught right now. It will be a slow change, but I think the principles of functional medicine will be incorporated into school curriculums, providing a foundational root cause approach to all healthcare professionals. 

Multidisciplinary practices are also becoming more accepted, where health professionals of differing areas collaborate to provide a patient the best well-rounded care. As more areas of specialization, including nutrition and health coaching, are introduced to these practices, functional medicine will undoubtedly become the core of multidisciplinary treatment whether it is recognized as such or not.

About Lexi Watson

Dr. Lexi Watson, PharmD earned her Doctor of Pharmacy with highest honor from The Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University in 2019. Shortly after entering the community pharmacy scene, she realized that no matter how much medication she dispensed, her patients weren’t getting better. In fact, many were getting worse. She was led to functional medicine by a long-time mentor and is currently pursuing certification from the Institute for Functional Medicine.

She currently helps men and women who are struggling with complex medical conditions that just don’t seem to get any better no matter what they try. Working through her 7 Pillars of Optimal Health, she helps her patients find the root cause of what’s going on, hit the reset button, watch their symptoms disappear, create a lasting lifestyle tailored to their body’s needs, and ultimately gain a renewed sense of vitality.

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