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

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

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There are so many medical specialties in existence that it’s no wonder people get confused. Do you see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist? A podiatrist or a pediatrician?

Sometimes, the differences between two specialties may be subtle enough that people think they’re the same thing. Very commonly, this applies to internal medicine and family medicine, but the truth is that they are not the same.

Read on to discover the differences, which can help you make an informed decision when choosing a primary care doctor or practice.

Internal Medicine

This medical specialty deals largely with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of internal diseases in adults.

Physicians in this specialty, called internists, often treat patients where the cause of an internal illness is uncertain or one where multiple internal systems are involved. For that reason, internists are skilled at diagnosing and treating a wide range of diseases.

For example, an internist could treat a patient experiencing fatigue or confusion: symptoms that may have several causes and are not easily diagnosed by a single-organ specialist. An internist may also treat a patient who has several illnesses in multiple systems at the same time. Internists may practice out of an office or do their work in hospitals.

Note that internal medicine is by definition limited to adult patients. Internists, like our own Dr. Sherif Hassan, may act as primary care physicians, but some internists do not treat childhood illness.

Family Medicine

Like internal medicine, family medicine is expansive in that it’s a specialty dealing with a multitude of medical issues. However, it’s a broader specialty, as a family physician treats people of all ages, including children, and the range of services that a family physician provides is comprehensive.

For instance, a family physician may provide a gynecological exam for a female patient, perform a well-child visit for a toddler, screen a new mother for post-partum depression, or do a physical for an elderly patient. Family physicians are trained in a number of disciplines in order to prepare them to offer holistic services to their patients.

The differences, in a nutshell

  • Both internists (internal medicine) and family physicians (family medicine) can be primary care physicians… but internists typically do not see child patients unless they also have training in pediatrics.
  • Internists have specialized skill in preventing, diagnosing and treating internal diseases, including multi-system diseases… while family physicians provide general services across a spectrum of disciplines that include internal medicine.

How this applies to choosing a primary care physician

If you find yourself wondering whether to choose a physician who specializes in internal medicine vs. family medicine, there is no inherently “better” option. You must take into account your own needs and expectations.

Are you looking for a doctor for just yourself? For your whole family? Are there pre-existing conditions or potential conditions for which you and your family need care? Ask yourself questions like these before choosing your doctor or primary care office.

At Maryland Primary Care in Lanham, MD, we provide a wide range of care to assist patients with every need, including both primary care and urgent care services. In addition, we offer onsite pharmacist counseling to give patients personalized guidance for their medications.

Book an appointment with us

Maryland Primary Care offers the best of both worlds in providing primary care to you and your family, encompassing both internal medicine and family medicine. Call 301-277-3555 to make an appointment today.

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