What is the Difference in Internal Medicine and Family Medicine?

October 11, 2022

Internal Medicine & Family Medicine: What’s the Difference?

For some patients, choosing a primary care provider may ultimately come down to a choice between a doctor providing internal medicine or family medicine. At first glance, both internists and family doctors appear to provide the same healthcare services. So, how does a patient decide between the two? Make an educated decision on your healthcare. Learn the difference between internal medicine and family medicine to determine which provider is right for you.

What is internal medicine?

Doctors who practice internal medicine, also known as internists, focus primarily on the care and treatment of adult patients. According to the American College of Physicians, internal medicine began in the 1800s, predating the existence of pediatric medicine, which began in the early 1900s. While internists may choose to also treat children, they must first undergo dual training for both internal medicine and pediatric medicine. The ACP reports internists must have experience in outpatient settings as well as at least one year of caring for hospitalized patients — including three months in an intensive or critical care unit.

The practice of internal medicine includes experience in general medicine as well as internal subspecialties, which can range from rehabilitation medicine to psychiatry. This training allows internists to develop expertise in numerous conditions. Consequently, internists can diagnose and treat a wide variety of diseases in adults, can diagnose and treat chronic illnesses and conditions, and can expertly treat complex situations in which an adult may be afflicted with more than one medical condition. In addition, internists are uniquely able to assist one another with medically complicated patients, while their experience in both inpatient and outpatient settings allows them to transition patients requiring hospitalization.

What is family medicine?

Unlike internists, family medicine doctors — or family physicians — are more broadly trained to care for patients of all ages, from children to seniors. Family physicians typically train in outpatient settings, providing acute, chronic, and wellness care for a variety of patients, though family physicians also have some training in inpatient settings.
Family physicians can provide holistic, long-term care for their patients, some of whom they may have known their whole lives. This allows family physicians to create specialized, preventative plans for each patient. Because family physicians are broadly trained, they can more easily adapt to the specific healthcare needs of their community. This enables them to provide broad healthcare services in areas without easy access to medical specialists, with whom family physicians are trained to coordinate care. The ACP also reports family physicians can function as primary care providers for adults as part of a family unit.

Which should you choose?

Both internists and family physicians can serve as your primary care provider and can provide unique benefits for you and your loved ones. Ultimately, the choice is yours when deciding who your provider should be. Find a physician with whom you’re comfortable and get the expert, compassionate healthcare you need.

Our providers are ready to handle your family’s healthcare needs. Learn more about the Culbertson Clinics and find a provider close to you.