By Lauren Glendenning, For Memorial Regional Health
Internists Treat Adults Across a Wide Range of Health Issues
A doctor who practices internal medicine is often called an internist, but what exactly does this general term mean in the medical field?
“Internists are often called upon by other physicians as consultants to help solve puzzling cases or manage difficult or complex cases,” said Dr. Nicholas Mills, an internist at Memorial Regional Health.
Not to be confused with “interns,” who are doctors in their first year of post-graduate training or residency, internists are like the jack of all trades when it comes to physicians who treat adult patients — much like a pediatrician is to child patients.
The American College of Physicians defines internal medicine physicians as “specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness.”
Internal Medicine vs. Family Medicine
Family medicine and internal medicine are not one in the same. Family medicine doctors provide care for the whole family, whereas internal medicine doctors focus primarily on adult patients.
According to the American College of Physicians, “the specialty of family medicine grew out of the general practitioner movement in the late 1960s in response to the growing level of specialization in medicine that was seen as increasingly threatening to the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship and continuity of care.”
Basically, over the years, family medicine became more specialized than it once was. This led to a need for physicians who weren’t as general in their approach, and who could primarily focus on adult care and adult-related health complications.
Thus, internal medicine developed out of the “increasing application of scientific knowledge into the practice of medicine starting in the late 1800s. … With the growth and development of pediatrics as a separate specialty devoted to the care of children in the early 1900s, internal medicine continued its primary focus on adult patients.”
What Do Internists Treat?
Dr. Mills said internists are trained to handle a broad and comprehensive spectrum of illnesses that affect adults.
“Internists are equipped to deal with whatever problem a patient brings — no matter how common or rare, or how simple or complex,” he said.
As an example, for patients with multiple conditions or medications who see different specialists, Dr. Mills said the internist acts as the communication link among the specialists, tailoring the patients’ treatments based on their overlapping problems. As an internist, Dr. Mills also refers patients to specialists when a condition is complex enough that he feels a specialist’s input is needed.