Internal medicine is a medical specialty that focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease in adults. All internal medicine doctors complete an internal medicine residency, which is an additional three years of training after medical school. They are considered primary care doctors, so they are trained to treat diseases in all body systems. Some doctors choose to specialize further, getting even more training after their residency. This is called subspecializing. There are several subspecialties within internal medicine, including:
The training to subspecialize is called a fellowship. It takes between one and three years after an internal medicine residency to complete fellowship training. If a doctor chooses more than one subspecialty, it will take longer. While most internal medicine doctors who complete a fellowship to sub-specialize go on to practice medicine exclusively in their subspecialty, they are considered internists even if they are referred to as their subspecialty name (such as cardiologist or psychiatrist).
The role of internal medicine doctors
One major focus of internal medicine is disease prevention. Internal medicine doctors play an important role in helping their patients prevent disease. Part of prevention involves maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which means eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking steps to reduce stress. So internal medicine doctors spend time with their patients counseling them on lifestyle improvements they can make to help prevent disease. Another part of prevention involves finding disease early while it’s easier to treat effectively. To do that, internists perform screenings and annual physical exams to look for early signs of disease.
Internal medicine doctors also act as advocates for their patients, referring them to specialists when needed and remaining an active part of a multidisciplinary care team.
Testing and screenings for disease prevention
Every time you visit an internal medicine doctor, even if it’s not a wellness visit, someone at the office will take steps to track and monitor your general health. For example, they may weigh you, take your blood pressure, check your temperature, and ask you how you’re feeling and whether you’re having any pain or other symptoms.
Your visit or visit follow-up will most likely involve tests, exams, or screenings. Some potential screenings are:
- Breast exams
- Testicular exams
- Prostate exams
- Blood pressure checks to screen for hypertension
- Cholesterol tests to look for high blood cholesterol (a sign of heart disease)
- Blood sugar tests to look for diabetes
- Bone scans to look for osteoporosis
The physical exam doctors perform every year at annual physicals involves doing a physical or visual exam of most parts of the body, like the eyes, ears, mouth, nose, throat, abdomen, legs, fingernails, and skin.
Are internal medicine doctors and primary care doctors the same?
All internal medicine doctors are primary care doctors, but not all primary care doctors are internal medicine doctors. Primary care doctors may also be family medicine doctors, pediatricians, or doctors of osteopathy. Learn more about internal medicine vs. family medicine.
Do internal medicine doctors refer patients to specialists?
While internal medicine doctors are trained to diagnose and treat most diseases and conditions that affect adults, they do refer patients to specialists when they believe it’s in the patient’s best interest to see a doctor who spends all day, every day diagnosing and treating a specific condition. For example, many doctors believe specialists are best equipped to treat conditions like:
- Chron’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Lung disease, like COPD
- Kidney disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Thyroid nodules
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Congenital heart disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
Internal medicine doctors at Beaumont
At Beaumont, we have internal medicine doctors across Metro Detroit who are taking new patients and looking forward to helping you with your overall health. If you do not have a primary care physician or would like to move to a new one, contact Beaumont’s referral number today at 800-633-7377.
Having a strong relationship with an internal medicine doctor is one good way to take charge of your own health. If you haven’t had your annual exam recently, call your doctor today to make an appointment.