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Internal Medicine vs. Primary Care: Comparison Guide

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Many people use the terms “primary care provider” and “internal medicine doctor" interchangeably, but there are a few differences in their scopes of practice.

Making an informed decision is important when choosing the best practitioner for yourself and your family. To get the most out of your medical care, take a closer look at the similarities and differences between internal medicine and other areas of primary care.

What is Internal Medicine?

Internal medicine covers a wide range of health needs for people 18 and older. An internal medicine physician, also known as an internist, has studied the human body extensively and can provide preventive health care and manage chronic diseases.

Patient-Centered Approach

Many chronic health issues facing American adults today have different root causes and complicated treatment regimens. Internists specialize in the human body to provide the best treatments and outcomes possible.

If you have complex medical conditions or chronic illnesses, consider establishing a relationship with an internist. Together, you'll focus on comprehensive care and either treating your conditions or preventing chronic illness.

Common Conditions Treated in Internal Medicine

Certain long-term health problems require the expertise and thorough disease management skills of internal medicine physicians. Your internist will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan for a variety of chronic health conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Blood disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Geriatric health problems
  • Infectious diseases
  • Kidney problems
  • Lung problems
  • Multisystem disorders and symptoms

In short, anything involving internal organs falls under the “internal medicine” umbrella and your internist will have the skills to help you manage those conditions.

What is Primary Care?

Primary care providers are the first point of contact between you and the broader health care system. They establish long-term relationships with patients — and sometimes their families — to manage their health.

Most patients refer to any long-term medical provider as their primary care provider, and as long as the provider meets their needs, the general term is accurate.

Scope of Primary Care

Primary care is very different from acute medical care, like emergency care, as your primary care provider can work with you long-term, sometimes throughout your entire life, rather than only during periods of acute illness.

Types of Primary Care Providers

Internal medicine physicians, family doctors and pediatricians are all classified as primary care providers. Although each specialty slightly differs in scope, their overall goals align with those of all primary care practices.

It’s important to differentiate between primary care specialties if you have specific health care needs. For example, a newborn baby will need very different care than a chronically ill adult.

Types of Primary Care Providers:

  • Family Physicians: Doctors who care for people of all ages. Family practitioners may treat children, elderly patients and people of all ages. Family members often choose to use the same family practice or even the same doctor as they build trust with their family medicine provider over time.
  • Geriatricians: Doctors who care for older adults with medical issues related to aging.
  • Internists: As we discussed earlier, internists provide primary care for adults and may specialize in certain types of disease management, including cardiology, pulmonary disease or critical care.
  • Pediatricians: Doctors who care for newborns, infants and children. Pediatricians are specially trained to monitor, diagnose and treat newborns and children. Some pediatricians complete an additional two to six years of further training in a subspecialty.
  • Obstetricians/gynecologists (OB/GYN): Physicians who care for women's reproductive health.

Your primary care provider plays a significant role in your and your family's well-being. While there are different types of primary care providers, they all serve the same purpose: to support the entire spectrum of patient care, to diagnose and treat illnesses, and to provide consistent preventive health care.

Doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners can all specialize in primary care.

Patient-Centered Approach in Primary Care

Primary care practitioners are heavily involved with preventive health care, aiming to help you prevent new or worsening health conditions.

In some cases, when more specialized care is needed – like surgery or physical therapy, for example – they will refer you to a specialist. This is an important and necessary part of primary care. These referrals allow you to get effective, thorough health care while maintaining your relationship and health history with your primary care provider.

Common Conditions Treated in Primary Care

Primary care providers specialize in early intervention, particularly when it comes to patient lifestyle changes and health maintenance. As a result, you can rely on your primary care provider to help manage and treat nearly any condition. Some examples are:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Anxiety
  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Earaches and ear infections
  • Flu-like illnesses
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Infections
  • Migraines
  • Obesity
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Skin rashes and allergies
  • Sprains and strains

Learn about how to find a primary care doctor near you.

Internal Medicine vs. Primary Care: Similarities and Differences

Internal medicine is a form of primary care, particularly if patients establish long-term relationships with an internal medicine provider. However, not all primary care providers specialize in internal medicine.

Both providers focus on disease management, prevention and treatments. They both coordinate care with other specialists. Both models of care emphasize long-term patient relationships. Patients can rely on both internists and other primary care providers to manage their chronic health needs.

Choosing Between Internal Medicine vs. Primary Care

Ultimately, the choice between these two specialties involves considering your personal preferences and needs.

Factors to Consider

Your health needs are key when choosing between internal medicine or another primary care provider. You should always make an informed decision when switching between health care providers by considering your personal health needs and comfort level.

Making an Informed Decision

Before making your choice, evaluate the benefits of internal medicine compared to the advantages other aspects of primary care offer.

If you have complex, chronic health conditions, you may be better off seeing an internal medicine specialist. These professionals are highly trained and knowledgeable in various disease interactions and treatments.

On the other hand, if you need routine medical care and check-ups, any primary care provider can provide those services for you. High-quality primary care is essential for your long-term well-being and your primary care provider is an integral part of your health care team.

FAQ: Internal Medicine vs. Primary Care

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What’s the difference between internal medicine vs. primary care?

The main focus of internal medicine vs. primary care lies in their patient populations. Internal medicine physicians focus on adults, often managing complex, chronic conditions, while other primary care physicians provide comprehensive care for patients of all ages, including children, adolescents and adults.

Why do people choose internal medicine vs. primary care?

Some people choose internal medicine over primary care because of the specialized focus on diagnosing and managing complex adult conditions, offering expertise in areas like diabetes, heart disease and respiratory disorders.

What type of doctor is best for primary care?

When choosing between internal medicine vs. primary care, the type of doctor best suited depends on your preferences and medical needs. Choosing the best primary care provider for yourself involves considering factors such as your age, medical history and the need for specialized expertise in managing specific health concerns.

Are internal medicine physicians and other primary care physicians trained differently?

Yes, internal medicine physicians and other primary care physicians undergo different training paths. Internal medicine physicians receive specialized training in diagnosing and treating adult diseases. On the other hand, primary care physicians undergo broader training that encompasses various medical specialties and patient populations, including family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics. Learn about the differences between family medicine vs. primary care physicians.

What types of patients do internal medicine vs. primary care physicians treat?

Internal medicine physicians typically treat adult patients, including those with chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, as well as acute illnesses. Primary care physicians, meanwhile, can care for patients of all ages, depending on their specialty, and may treat a broader range of conditions.

Are there any specific medical conditions that internal medicine physicians focus on more than primary care physicians?

Internal medicine physicians often specialize in caring for internal organs. So, when it comes to internal medicine vs. primary care doctors, internal medicine physicians are trained to help manage conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory disorders. Primary care physicians have a more generalist approach, addressing a wide spectrum of medical issues, including preventive care, acute illnesses and minor injuries.

What role do internal medicine physicians vs. primary care physicians play in preventive health care?

Internal medicine and primary care physicians play crucial roles in preventive health care. Internal medicine physicians focus on managing chronic conditions and promoting healthy lifestyles in adults. At the same time, other primary care providers emphasize preventive health care across all age groups, including immunizations, screenings and counseling on lifestyle modifications.

How do I choose between an internal medicine vs. a primary care physician?

When deciding between a specialized internal medicine provider and another type of primary care doctor, you'll need to consider your needs and the services each specialty can provide. Finding a provider you connect with and feel comfortable talking to is important in creating a lasting, long-term health care relationship.

Establish a Relationship With a Primary Care+ Provider Today

If you're looking for a primary care provider, we can help. At AdventHealth Primary Care+, we specialize in patient-centered, whole-person care and form lasting relationships between our patients and physicians. We offer flexible scheduling and are open seven days a week.

Book an appointment or walk in to visit Primary Care+ today.

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