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What Is Functional Medicine?

February 26, 2021

People with complex chronic illnesses such as irritable bowel disease, thyroid conditions, hormonal imbalances and autoimmune diseases may see numerous doctors over several years. The role of a functional medicine doctor is to take all of that information and find the root cause.

“It’s common for patients to tell me that they’ve seen 30 doctors over the past few years, and I’m doctor No. 31,” says functional medicine provider Bianca Chiara, MD, with Atlantic Health System’s Chambers Center for Well-Being. 

Dr. Chiara is a family medicine physician with specialized training from the Institute of Functional Medicine, which she describes as “lifestyle medicine.” “We use nutritional therapies, supplements and medications if needed to give patients a foundation to achieve lifelong change,” she says. While people with complex chronic illnesses make up the majority of Dr. Chiara’s patient base, she also provides care for people who are feeling well and want to optimize their overall health status.

A ‘Get to Know You’ Approach

Prior to the first visit,  patients are asked to complete an intake packet that includes a detailed medical history. This information is reviewed prior to your initial appointment, allowing your care team to utilize the full 90 minutes getting to know each patient.  

Once patients arrive, Dr. Chiara asks them all the same question. “When was the last time you felt well?” She then asks patients to tell her everything that happened between that last time they felt well and the present. “I want to understand what’s transpired physically, emotionally and socially for them on their journey,” says Dr. Chiara. 

She may order bloodwork, imaging studies or other diagnostic tests based on what she learns. She offers patients many specialty tests, including:

  • Gut microbiome testing that evaluates gut bacteria and fungi, along with digestive, inflammatory and metabolic markers
  • A breath test that helps find small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Advanced blood and urine testing that evaluates how the body metabolizes sex and adrenal hormones, which may help find conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Food sensitivity testing, including testing for conditions such as non-celiac gluten sensitivity


When I meet patients for the first time, I start with this question: When was the last time you felt well?”

Dr. Bianca Chiara, Functional medicine provider at Atlantic Health System’s Chambers Center for Well-Being.


“I want to know what we need to look for that hasn’t been looked for already,” Dr. Chiara says.

At the end of the first visit, Dr. Chiara will also offer recommendations, which may include exercises, nutrition guidance, mindfulness practices or detoxification practices such as infrared sauna or Epsom salt baths. 

During the second visit, which typically occurs four-to-six weeks after the initial meeting, Dr. Chiara will review a patient’s test results and offer more specific recommendations to help them manage their health condition and improve their overall well-being. Afterward, patients often have routine 45-minute follow-up visits as needed.

If you want to know more about whether functional medicine is the right fit for you, Dr. Chiara offers 15-minute meet-and-greet sessions by telephone. 

To schedule a meet-and-greet or an appointment, call 973-971-6301.

Appointments are available virtually and in-person.