What is internal medicine?

Internal medicine is the type of medicine practiced by internal medicine doctors, frequently referred to as internists. These doctors typically address a wide range of health needs and are considered experts in diagnosing and treating chronic illnesses. Unlike family medicine doctors, who treat people of all ages, an internal medicine specialist usually focuses on the treatment of adults and adolescents over the age of 18.

What health problems does an internal medicine doctor treat?

An internist doctor can be your first line of defense for concerns ranging from sinus infections and broken bones to acute and chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. In most cases, an internist will serve as your home base for medical treatment, referring you to the appropriate specialists as necessary, and then coordinating and overseeing the care you receive.

One particularly good reason for choosing an internal medicine doctor can be the advanced training they receive in overseeing hospital care. Most internal medicine doctors undergo specialized hospital-based training, and many maintain affiliations with a number of well-respected hospitals. If you ever require hospitalization, you will appreciate this distinct advantage of choosing an internist.

How does an internal medicine doctor differ from a family medicine doctor?

The three biggest differences between an internal medicine specialist and a family medicine doctor lie in who they treat, where they treat them, and the additional training they receive.

Internists typically undergo extensive training in the types of acute and chronic diseases most often seen in adult patients, while family medicine doctors may begin practicing immediately after residency. Those family medicine doctors who do receive additional training typically focus on pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics, and geriatrics, to better serve patients throughout a wider spectrum of age groups.

In addition to completing four years of medical school and three years of residency, your internist may have gained training in a variety of specialties, most often focused on areas such as cardiology, endocrinology, and palliative care. Some internists also complete advanced training in sub-specialties, such as emergency medicine.

Typically, internal medicine specialists focus on diseases that affect the heart, lungs, liver, or kidneys, including chronic conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Joint conditions
  • Lung disease
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Sleep disorders

Similar to a family medicine doctor, your internist may also offer general services, such as exams, screenings, and certain types of preventive care.

When should I see an internal medicine doctor?

Your internist will typically serve as your primary care doctor, making him or her your first resource for general care. This type of doctor often plays a key role in assessing health risks, providing appropriate preventive care, educating you on particular health concerns and your potential risk, as well as serving as your lifelong medical contact for whole-person health. As someone familiar with your overall health history, an internist is usually well qualified to help you make educated decisions that vitally impact your long-term health. If you have a chronic disease, for example, your internist doctor may coordinate the care you receive from specialists, as well as any care you receive in a hospital setting.

Find an internal medicine doctor near me

One of the most important considerations in choosing an internist is often the convenience factor. If this is the case for you, it makes sense to consider a concierge internist. A concierge internist typically offers a range of convenient services rarely found in a traditional internist’s setting.

These added conveniences should be a significant consideration in your choice of internist. Having an internal medicine doctor near you, who offers readily available appointments, and who remains available beyond regular office hours, can play a vital role in your health—particularly if you have a chronic condition or require emergency care.

Gregory Waser, MD

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