Family Medicine vs. Internal Medicine: What’s the Difference?

A female doctor speaks to a happy family of four in a medical setitng.

When choosing a primary care doctor, it’s important to understand your options. Family medicine doctors and internal medicine doctors are both considered primary care doctors and both play vital roles in the healthcare systems. While there may be some overlaps in the services they provide, there are also significant differences between the two that you need to be aware of when making this important health decision.

So, what are the differences between the two? How do you know whether to opt for a family medicine or internal medicine doctor?

What Is Family Medicine?

Family medicine, also known as family practice, is a medical specialty that provides comprehensive healthcare to people of all ages – from newborns to the elderly.

Family medicine doctors are well-versed in a wide range of medical areas. They provide preventative care, diagnose and manage acute and chronic illnesses, and offer patient education on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Their broad knowledge enables them to treat the person as a whole and consider how different health issues can affect a patient’s life at different stages.

One of the benefits of family medicine is the long-term relationships doctors build with their patients. Their care often extends to the entire family, enabling them to have a unique understanding of the family’s health history and dynamics. This can be critical in preventive care and early detection of diseases.

Family doctors often coordinate with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care, including routine check-ups, vaccinations, screening tests, and personalized counseling on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

What Is Internal Medicine?

Internal medicine is a specialty focused on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of adult diseases.

Unlike family medicine, internal medicine doctors are trained to deal exclusively with the complexities of adult health. They do not typically see pediatric or obstetric patients.

Internists are experienced at handling complex diagnostic cases and the ongoing treatment of chronic illnesses. They have a deep understanding of the ways in which different adult health issues can interact with one another.

Internal medicine doctors may choose to practice general internal medicine or subspecialize in areas such as cardiology, gastroenterology or endocrinology. This enables them to develop an even greater depth of knowledge in specific medical fields.

What’s the Difference Between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine?

Now that we’ve explored what each type of medicine involves, let’s address the question: what is the difference between family medicine and internal medicine?

1) Age range of patients

The most apparent difference lies in the age range of patients these doctors take on. Family medicine doctors treat patients of all ages, while internal medicine doctors focus on adult patients exclusively.

2) Scope of practice

Family medicine’s scope is broader, covering a wide array of health issues and catering to the general wellness of the entire family. In doing so, they develop preventative care plans for patients who may be more likely to develop certain illnesses as a result of their family health history. Internal medicine, on the other hand, is more focused on the complexities and the in-depth management of adult diseases.

3) Subspecialize

Internists often subspecialize, which is less common in family medicine. While family doctors can have areas of interest, they typically maintain a generalist approach.

4) Training

While both specialties require a three-year residency program following medical school, the training they receive differs. Family medicine residents are trained in several areas, including pediatrics, obstetrics, and geriatrics. Internal medicine residents, on the other hand, receive more in-depth training in adult medicine, particularly in the management of complex chronic diseases.

5) Hospital medicine

Internists are more likely to be found in hospital settings, given their expertise in complex adult diseases. Family doctors, while also trained for hospital medicine, are often found in outpatient settings, providing continuity of care.

Choosing Between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine

When deciding whether to see a family medicine doctor or an internal medicine doctor, it’s important to consider your specific health needs and goals.

If you have children and are looking for a single doctor to treat your entire family, a family medicine doctor may be an ideal choice. If you’re an adult with specific health complexities or chronic conditions, an internist may be better suited for you.

For those who value having a single healthcare provider throughout various life stages, family medicine is a great option. If you’re an adult who doesn’t mind potentially having different doctors as you age, then either specialty can work.

Finally, internists are skilled at navigating adult health issues and coordinating with other specialists when needed. Family doctors manage overall health and can also refer to specialists, but they take a more holistic approach to patient care.

Elevate Your Health

Ultimately, the choice between family medicine and internal medicine comes down to your personal preference and specific health requirements. Both areas of medicine can provide exceptional patient care, but their approaches and areas of expertise differ.

At Northern Nevada Medical Group, our board-certified family medicine doctors are here to help. Located in the Northern Nevada area, our doctors are dedicated to providing comprehensive patient care for patients of all ages.

Learn more about our family medicine doctors, including what conditions we treat as well as what treatment and services we provide.

Reach out to us with any questions or concerns you may have by scheduling an appointment online or calling 775-352-5300.

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