3X4’s new Functional Medicine Practitioner Spotlight series features interviews with practitioners, consultants and functional medicine thought leaders to explore everything functional medicine practitioners need to know about successfully building, managing, and growing their private practice.
The following is an interview we recently had with Stacey Luetmer, MD, Owner of Flourish Health LLC.
What can you tell us about your practice?
SL: Flourish Health is primarily a membership-based practice, with about 95% of my revenue generated by patients who subscribe to an annual plan. I attract patients who are ready to make the necessary changes to address long running health issues or simply improve their overall health, so I have structured my practice to provide the tools necessary so members can invest in their health education. By tapping into these resources, my members can make the most out of the time they spend with me during consultations. Membership plans include a fixed amount of consulting time that can be used toward appointments, group clinic visits, or coaching sessions. In addition to time, membership provides a number of additional benefits. Members have access to a private side of my website which includes hundreds of hours of educational videos I have produced along with supporting resources, including food plans, course notes, and disease-specific patient education. I can direct my patients to specific resources on my site so we don’t have to spend so much time one-on-one covering the basics of how to address their specific health concerns from a functional medicine perspective. In addition to patient education, we have created a private community forum on our own platform for our members to share their stories and support each other with practical advice. We also host member gatherings (monthly zoom meetings this past year) to provide another venue for members to be in community with each other and address common questions. We are looking forward to hosting some of these in person again soon!
My approach with supplements is also somewhat unconventional. Rather than banking on supplement sales as a revenue center, we sell our supplements at our cost to our members. We created an online store with 300+ supplements from 20+ companies that is accessible exclusively to members; which provides a great shopping experience for them. By providing a comprehensive selection of supplements at the best price, I have a near 100% compliance rate of my patients actually taking the supplements I recommend, which contributes to the overall success for my patients.
What surprised you the most when you started your practice?
SL: We are trying to be a part of a change in how healthcare is delivered providing consumer driven healthcare with complete cost transparency. I have been pleasantly surprised to discover the number of people who have not just joined our practice as patients, but also embrace our model and actively promote the practice. Many of my patients have “Cadillac” insurance plans, but they still see the value of paying out of pocket to be members. I also anticipated the need to market my practice, but we have not spent any money on advertising, with word of mouth driving as much business as I can handle.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome as you built your practice? How did you overcome it?
SL: The biggest challenge in starting the practice and even in maintaining it relates to how I perceive the quality of care I deliver. I always want to do my very best for each patient and will always strive to have the best options and recommendations for them. This takes a lot of time, with continuing education, research, and looking for the best options for each unique patient. This can be daunting and exhausting with every patient presenting with unique stories and needs. There can be a lot of questioning myself as to if I have succeeded and done my best. This is both professionally and personally challenging, and one many can likely relate to.
I am working on overcoming that in a few ways. First, I am accepting my limitations as one person, and know that I have continued to educate myself as fast as I can, that I truly care about each person and have made the recommendations I feel are best for them. Second, I am now employing a health coach, which has been a great way to hear the patient story from another perspective, and offering services that augment what I am doing. I am also expanding “my team” by referring to other therapies like brain spotting, functional neurology, and any others that can help the patient. I am no longer trying to take it all on myself.
The other way I am trying to overcome the feeling that I am not helping my patients enough is personally having a realistic view of the patient’s prognosis, and then sharing that with patients as well. One of the main things I hear from chronically ill people is that they have been promised by many practitioners that the treatment/cure they have will fix the patient. And then it doesn’t and the patient eventually loses hope as well as trust in the functional medicine practitioners. When patients come with serious issues such as autoimmune disease, neurological diseases and more, we have a serious discussion about the reality of the illness, how we can improve or help areas, and realistic goals. This has been extremely helpful for both myself and patients.
We spent a lot of time fine-tuning the membership model. We started with far too many plan options for new members to choose from and have continually simplified the plans to the point where we now have an easy to explain model that can address a lot of varying patient needs. “Keep it simple!” has become our motto.
What advice would you give to other practitioners considering launching their own practice?
SL: You have spent a small fortune and years of your life developing your expertise. Don’t waste a single hour of your time working on tasks that are below your pay grade or not in your wheelhouse. In my case, both my husband and I left our W2 jobs to start this practice. It has worked well for us as he has a 30-year background in healthcare information technology, healthcare business and compliance consulting, and healthcare startups, so he takes care of everything that does not require an MD behind his name. This frees me up to devote all my time to address my members’ medical needs.
I would also tell other practitioners to go for it! I wish I had taken the leap much sooner than I did. There are so many benefits as a provider to be on your own and you can have so much more impact on others who truly seek the knowledge you have.
What excites you most about the field of functional medicine?
SL: I feel that functional medicine is really taking off as more people are searching for ways to truly become healthier rather than hoping for a quick fix in the form of a prescription medication or a supplement, and more people are understanding that there are root causes of disease and illness. There is more and more information and research on individualizing care in every aspect, from genetics to lifestyle and diet recommendations to properly targeted supplementation. It is exciting to be on the cutting edge of this new research and education, helping to guide people through this health journey with more information specific to them than we have been able to provide in the past.
I also am excited about the incredible amount of research and information on trauma and how that affects every aspect of health. I have had so many patients heal various pathways through brain spotting, limbic retraining, and other trauma-based therapies.
The other very exciting area is genetic testing. We can do so much for prevention as well as treatment by understanding a patient’s unique genetic pathways when we apply them to their current health concerns. I was initially very hesitant in ordering single SNP genetics as it didn’t seem to truly relate to what I was seeing with patients. However, the 3×4 genetics has been such a blessing to take patient care to the next level in individualizing care. Each test I have run has reflected the patient’s health issues and concerns and the recommendations are easy to understand and follow. It is truly exciting already and I am anxious to see what is to come!
Where do you see your practice 5 years from now?
SL: I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on functional medicine continuing education and well over 2,000 hours developing a library of content that is available to my member patients. In addition, my husband has created a unique IT infrastructure that provides a streamlined practice management system that serves both me as a provider and our member patients well. I would love to explore how I can share our model with other providers who do not have the time or expertise readily available to build what I have from scratch. In 5 years, I would love to see my long-term members continuing to flourish as well as see patients from other practices benefit from my content and our model.