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The Difference Between Internal Medicine and Family Medicine

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internal and family medicine

Many insurance companies require that their members choose a specific healthcare provider, sometimes called a primary care provider (PCP). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), of the nearly 884 million visits to healthcare professionals in 2018, 54.5 percent were made to primary care physicians. 

Even if your insurance doesn’t require it, it’s always a good idea to find a professional that you can develop a trusting, long-term relationship with, whether it’s an internal medicine doctor or family medicine physician. 

While it’s a personal decision, as part of the process, it’s important to understand the difference between an internist and family physician to make the best choice possible.

Family Medicine Focuses on Patients of All Ages

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Family medicine emerged during the 1960s with the primary care movement, which advocated for the importance of long-term physician-patient relationships. It was created to serve the social unit of an entire family, rather than segmenting it by type of treatment, organ, or age. 

One of the biggest differences between family medicine and internal medicine is the age group. Family medicine physicians focus on treating patients of all ages, kids and adults alike. These doctors have a broad base of medical training and knowledge in many different issues and conditions that can affect people of all ages, from newborns to seniors. Attending one of the best family medicine residency programs helps ensure they’ll help as many varied patients as possible.

They’re also equipped to handle acute health issues like fevers, infections, minor injuries, and pain, as well as patients with new ailments requiring a diagnosis and those who have known diseases. Family medicine offices typically offer preventative health services such as immunizations, vaccinations, screening tests, and routine checkups. 

Internal Medicine Focuses on Adults

When the medical field grew increasingly scientific during the late 19th-century, internal medicine emerged and continued to grow as a field devoted solely to adults. This was also when pediatrics started to develop as a branch of medicine.

Internal medicine doctors are focused on treating the unique needs of adults, similar to how a pediatrician focuses on treating only children. They have extensive knowledge of the health risks that adult patients face at each stage of their adult years. Internists have specialized training in diagnosing and treating adult diseases, so other doctors often turn to them when they’re challenged with a puzzling diagnosis. 

Patients with chronic illnesses and those facing complex medical diagnoses often see an internist first, as these doctors are can with a wide range of issues while looking at the whole patient due to their in-depth knowledge and understanding of the disease. They have significant education and experience in specialty areas like orthopedics, infectious diseases, dermatology, and psychiatry to ensure they can provide total care to both women and men. 

Internal Medicine Often Includes Hospital Care, Family Medicine Focuses on Outpatient Care

Internal medicine doctors not only provide outpatient care, they often provide hospital care as well. These physicians have in-depth education and training in inpatient and outpatient care. While a family medicine doctor can also treat their patients at a hospital, most of their training is focused on outpatient care. The majority focus exclusively on outpatient medicine, with preventative medicine a significant part of what they do. They may see a healthy newborn in one visit and then the next, an 85-year-old with complicated medical issues.