For many people, the start of the new year is a reminder to schedule an annual check-up. But do you make your appointment with a primary care physician, family medicine doctor, or internist? And what should you expect if you end up making an appointment with an internist? Read on to clear up your confusion – just don’t forget to get your checkup when you’re done reading.
What is an internist? Internists are doctors specializing in internal medicine who only treat adults. Internal medicine refers to conditions that affect the internal organs. After medical school, most internists are required to complete at least three additional years of postgraduate training that focuses on preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases that affect adults, including chronic conditions such as heart disease. Internists are the first line of care for many patients. Because internal medicine is such a broad field, the work of each internist varies. In fact, while these providers are capable of treating a wide range of conditions in adults, some focus on, or specialize in, specific areas of internal medicine. Common specialties include allergy and immunology, cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology, infectious disease, among others.
What is the difference between internal medicine and family medicine? Family medicine doctors and internists complete different postgraduate work, but the biggest difference between the two types of doctors is the age of their patients. Family practitioners see all ages – from infants to seniors. Internists, on the other hand, only see adults and patients 18 years of age and older.
Do I need to have an internist? If you don’t already have another type of primary care provider, it’s a good idea to find an internist you trust who will serve as your home base for your medical care. Having a provider who is familiar with the state of your health and has access to all of your records can save time and improve the standard of care you receive in the case of an emergency. Additionally, if you need to seek out care from a specialist, some insurance companies won’t cover those visits without a referral from a primary care provider like an internist. Establishing a relationship with an internist ahead of time can help you avoid high medical bills in the future.
How do I choose which internist to see? If you’re insured, it’s a good idea to start with your insurance company’s list of preferred providers, which will guarantee that the internist will accept your insurance. You can also ask friends and family for recommendations, or use one of the many different online tools available to help you find a doctor in your area. Feel free to schedule an in-person visit to see if a provider is a good fit for your and your health needs. You can bring a list of questions to this appointment to help you get a feel for how you might work with the provider. You can ask questions about the doctor’s policy for emergency visits, if they answer questions via email, or how to best reach them if you need to be seen immediately.
How do I know when to see my internist? In general, most healthy adults find that an annual visit to their internist is sufficient for getting their physical and any recommended screenings or blood work that are appropriate for their gender, age, family history, and other factors. But if you suffer from a chronic condition like high blood pressure or diabetes, your doctor will most likely recommend more frequent consultations. For patients with chronic health conditions, internists often function as the gatekeepers, monitoring body systems and managing chronic illness. Your internist will also refer you to or consult with other specialists if necessary. Outside of preventative care and chronic care management, internists also see their patients for more urgent situations, like if their patient is sick with a cough, cold, or flu. Let your provider know if you don’t feel well, and seek medical advice right away.