When choosing a primary care doctor, many people want to understand the difference between an internal medicine doctor and a family medicine doctor. Both are considered primary care doctors and have training in several subspecialties. Both treat adults, and both can (in some cases) treat children.
So what’s the difference? And more importantly, which type of doctor is right for you?
Internal medicine doctors
Internal medicine doctors, also called internists, care primarily for adults. Some internists also see children, but to do this, they must have dual training in both internal medicine and pediatrics.
Internal medicine doctors specialize in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease in their adult patients. They are trained to offer care for a wide variety of health conditions and to counsel their patients on prevention and overall wellness.
Internists must complete a three-year residency before they begin practicing internal medicine, and some take additional training in a subspecialty, such as neurology, endocrinology, oncology, psychiatry, dermatology, cardiology, geriatrics or rheumatology.
Family medicine doctors
Family medicine doctors care for people of all ages – from infants through the elderly. The care they offer encompasses four branches of medicine:
- adolescent medicine
- adult medicine
Family medicine doctors often care for the same patients throughout their lives, and in many cases, they care for multiple generations of family members at the same time.
To practice family medicine, doctors must also complete a three-year residency program after medical school. A residency in family medicine includes training in pediatric medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, psychiatry, radiology, ophthalmology, urology and more. Because they tend treat the widest variety of ages and conditions, they must be trained to diagnose and treat a broad range of diseases and conditions.
Through added fellowship training, many family medicine physicians also incorporate obstetrics, sports medicine and palliative care into their practice.
Choosing an Internal Medicine Doctor or Family Medicine Doctor
Because internal medicine doctors and family medicine doctors are both primary care doctors, it may be difficult to choose between them. They are both capable of diagnosing and treating many conditionsand both will guide you in preventing disease and detecting health problems early while they’re still treatable. Ultimately, there are benefits to choosing both types of physicians.
“Patients are sometimes confused by the word FAMILY because they think it means they need to have children in order to see that type of a primary care doctor, but that’s not the case,” said Stephanie Proszkow, a referral specialist with Beaumont’s Physician Referral Service. "We usually start by explaining that internal medicine doctors see patients 18 and over, while family medicine doctors can see patients of all ages, as well as provide many of the services a woman could get from an OB-GYN.”
Stephanie explained that once that clarification is made, many patients feel they have enough information to make the best decision for themselves and their family.
“No matter what type of doctor a patient is looking for, finding one they are comfortable with can be really difficult,” Stephanie said. “We really try to listen to their needs and hopefully relieve some of the anxiety and find them a doctor that is a great match.”