I was first introduced to the term “functional medicine” by my close friend, Aras Toker, when he reversed a decade-long Crohn’s Disease by applying functional medicine treatment techniques.
About a year ago, Aras and I cofounded a company, syncH, to promote functional medicine practice with the mission of reversing chronic health conditions that affects 1 in every 4 adults around the world.
We had a full year of continous learning, pivoting, re-launching and networking. We hustled and made every effort to grow, yet the company didn’t take off. The number one reason of failure was unit economics.
There are many reasons startups fail and I’d be happy to share the details of what we tried at syncH with anyone who is curious.
As of this month, we paused our effort to build syncH as a company. We are keeping the platform alive until we figure out how to build a business around it. In the meantime, I wanted to share an update with my friends and supporters why I spent the last year bringing awareness to this nascent industry. After all, I still believe in the future of functional medicine and why it should become the new conventional medicine.
Why is Functional Medicine important?
For beginners, functional medicine is not alternative medicine. In fact, it is a more advanced medical practice that takes into account everything that relates to a patient’s life, including genetic composition and 10 times more biomarkers from blood samples.
Functional medicine is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based medical approach to address the underlying causes of a patient’s disease. It empowers patients and practitioners to work together with a health-focused mindset while providing a toolkit for a more comprehensive approach.
The main difference between functional and conventional medicine is that functional medicine is a health-oriented practice that focuses on the biochemical complexity of individuals as opposed to conventional medicine which is a disease-oriented practice that treats every patient more or less the same way.
What’s the future of functional medicine?
I’m not qualified to provide an expert opinion on the $8 trillion healthcare industry. Yet, working on syncH for a year, having the chance to talk to experts and researching the field helped me form an opinion on where functional medicine is heading.
Two trends that I have been witnessing:
- The future of healthcare is “Holistic” and “Personalized”
Conventional medicine tends to overlook many aspects of a patient’s wellness — such as nutritional intake, daily activity and stress levels — while heavily relying on pharmaceutical products to fix specific symptoms.
Functional medicine takes a whole-body approach with an emphasis on self-healing of the body by making long term adjustments on how the patient lives their life.
Fitness and wellness apps have now become mainstream. These popular consumer apps are mainly focusing on three distinct holistic health categories:
iii) Mental health
Furthermore, healthcare industry is becoming more aware of the fact that people have different chemical composition and that cookie-cutter treatments don’t always work. The industry started to realize that data collection paired with AI is the future of healthcare. I belive that there is one objective here:
Going into the details of these verticals would require a much longer article. I just want to highlight the demand growth and consequently the investor interest in these verticals.
According to Rock Health 2017 Year End report, investments in digital health companies have increased six-fold from 2011 to 2017. Furthermore, verticals such as consumer health data, fitness and wellness are the top recipient of investments last year. Personal data, smart nutrition, optimum activity and better mental health are becoming more important when it comes to a comprehensive healthcare.
2. Conventional medicine is NOT solving chronic health conditions in a world where number of patients is growing rapidly
Life expectancy has been increasing worldwide — mainly because of advances in the medical industry. The pharmaceutical industry plays a big role in this advancement and we should be grateful to the drugs and vaccinations that prevent or eradicate diseases.
But, people spend far more of their lives being ill.
World Health Organization predicts that chronic diseases will account for almost three-quarters of all deaths worldwide in 2020. In the next 20 years, the number of people who suffer from diabetes and heart disease will grow by 30% and 20% respectively worldwide.
According to a RAND research, already 60% of US population suffers from one or more chronic health conditions. On average, a patient with only one chronic health condition spends ~$4k on medical costs and that could translate to a $1 Trillion medical spending nationwide.
There are many blogs and articles that demonstrate poor outcomes when conventional medicine is applied to those with chronic diseases. I am not here to judge whether these medical approaches are correct or not. What I do want to highlight the conventional care required to treat chronic conditions have become too expensive for both insurers and individuals.
There are two scenarios ahead of functional medicine
Functional medicine is a relatively new medical practice; the majority of consultations are paid out-of-pocket, public awareness is slowly building up and it is only attracting a small population who can afford it.
The number of practitioners who are trained in functional medicine is growing by 30% annually. The growth in the supply side is a strong signal but it is not a true validation because this trend can reverse if practitioners don’t see its benefit to their bottom-line. What really matters is the patient demand that is going to be fueled by awareness, accessibility and financial support.
To put my thoughts in perspective, I drew two scenarios:
In the first scenario, let’s assume that nothing changes in the status-quo and functional medicine stays as a niche medical practice that is only embraced by a small community who can afford it.
In this scenario, the number of patients with chronic health conditions will continue to increase while increasing the burden on public healthcare spending. With some advancements of digital-health companies and corporate wellness programs, we should expect a small improvement in overall wellness of individuals.
In the second scenario, let’s assume the extreme condition where functional medicine becomes the new conventional medicine when it comes to chronic conditions.
In this scenario, we will see the impact of functional medicine on individuals’ overall health. Nutrition will become the new medicine; rather than fixing symptoms for chronic health patients, drug companies can focus on terminal diseases. Public money will be shared for the overall health of the society with a focus on preventive care.
We may end up in a scenario in between where some insurance companies could offer functional medicine services at a higher cost and the burden on the patient can be lower than what it is now due to higher demand and economies of scale.
Surely conventional medicine will evolve to something different as digital health companies continue revolutionizing touch-points with patients. My hunch is that, at some point, conventional medicine will come to its senses.
We need a healthier society at a lower cost.
My personal opinion is that you should put your money on functional medicine — either as an investor, provider, employee or a consumer.
I would love to hear your comments, please feel free to reach out.