What Is Internal Medicine?
posted by The Live Better Team | August 1, 2016
Have you ever wondered what a friend was talking about when she said that she saw her “internist”? She had an appointment with her personal primary care physician who is board certified in Internal Medicine. But what’s the difference between an internal medicine doctor and a family medicine doctor? As one primary care physician explains it, “We’re all primary care physicians, but the biggest difference is internal medicine doctors are like adult pediatricians.”
Think of it this way:
A pediatrician provides medical care for children.
An internal medicine physician provides care for adults, and often adolescents.
A family practitioner is a pediatrician and internist combined, and cares for both children and adults.
These “doctors for adults”, or internists, provide comprehensive primary care to adolescents, adults and the elderly in office and hospital settings, managing both common and complex illnesses. Although not trained in maternity care, an internist is trained in office gynecology. They don’t treat newborns or infants, but may see older adolescents. General internists, with their extensive knowledge and skill in diagnosis and treatment, are expected to play an increasingly critical role in healthcare provision as the population ages and the burden of chronic disease grows.
An internal medicine physician’s primary responsibilities include:
Health maintenance and disease screening, including substance abuse and mental health
Diagnosis and care of acute and chronic medical conditions
Management of patients with multiple, complex medical problems
Effective treatment of common problems of the ears, eyes, skin, reproductive organs and nervous system
Serving as consultants to other disciplines
The basic training required to practice internal medicine includes “at least three of their seven or more years of medical school and postgraduate training dedicated to learning how to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases that affect adults,” explains the American College of Physicians.
General internal medicine practitioners are internists who go into practice following the completion of their basic internal medicine training. These doctors are specially trained to solve challenging diagnostic problems and treat severe chronic illnesses.
As one primary care physician explains it, “We’re all primary care physicians, but the biggest difference is internal medicine doctors are like adult pediatricians.”
They often care for patients facing many different illnesses at the same time. Internists are not limited to one type of medical problem or organ system and are equipped to deal with whatever condition a patient brings—even the rare and complex. Internal medicine doctors establish long and rewarding personal relationships with their patients and care for them throughout their adult lives.
The large majority of internal medicine residents choose to specialize, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This additional training in a more focused area of internal medicine, often called a “fellowship”, usually requires an additional one to three years beyond the basic three year internal medicine residency. This broad and deep training qualifies internists to manage very complex medical issues and perform advanced clinical procedures.
Subspecialties open to internal medicine residents include:
Allergy and immunology
Endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism
Gastroenterology (gastrointestinal system, liver and gall bladder)
Infectious disease (bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections)
Pulmonary disease (lungs and respiratory system)
Rheumatology (joints and musculoskeletal system)
When you have a medical concern like diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol, or a common illness like the flu, a mental health challenge such as depression or anxiety, or even aches and pains that you can’t figure out – an internist can act as your point person. If you do need to see a specialist, your internist will make the referral and coordinate your care, acting as your advocate and ensuring that you understand the diagnosis and treatment plan.
Revere Health Internal Medicine providers offer immunizations, health management counseling for chronic conditions such as diabetes, physical exams and screenings for hypertension, osteoporosis and sleep disorders. We have nearly 30 providers who are specially trained in internal medicine in four locations in Utah County to serve your needs.
Each of our internal medicine providers has access to an electronic medical record, allowing for coordinated care. Additionally, as a part of the Revere Health group, our internists can work with specialists if necessary to ensure you have the expertise you need.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.