Currently in medical care in the United States, there are four main primary care specialties: family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and geriatrics. Internal medicine is primary care for adults, pediatrics is primary care for children and infants, and geriatrics is primary care for seniors. Family medicine, the broadest specialty, is primary care for all ages.
A family medicine physician is a medical ‘home base’ for patients. They treat all ages, all sexes, all organs, and all diseases. They can see every member of the family, from birth through old age. This allows family medicine doctors to develop long-term relationships with their patients and to understand how their patients’ role in the family affects their health. They can provide check-ups, immunizations, screening services, gynecological exams and obstetric care, routine health care, and health counseling. When more specialized care is needed, a family medicine doctor can refer their patients to appropriate specialists. They can become educators and advocates for their patients in the sometimes overwhelming health care system.
As health care changes in this country, family medicine is a growing specialty for families and individuals who are seeking more personalized health care and a more personal relationship with their physician.
A specialist in general internal medicine is often referred to as an “internist.” While internal medicine physicians also provide comprehensive care, they should not be confused with general practitioners or family medicine practitioners, both of which may provide pregnancy care, deliver babies, and treat children. An internal medicine doctor specializes only in the health care of adults.
With internal medicine, there is never an illness too big or too small. These physicians have exceptionally broad-based training, and they can care for patients in any condition -- from healthy to dealing with serious medical issues. Because their scope is so wide, internal medicine physicians can provide an excellent picture of overall health.
One of the unusual aspects of internal medicine is that physicians in this field often treat their patients for a very long time -- sometimes for life. They manage preventive care when their patients are well, and they become advocates and consultants when complex medical issues arise. Because internal medicine physicians tend to treat patients over a long period of time, they are an ideal choice to manage chronic illnesses.
There are a huge number of subspecialties within internal medicine, for example: cardiology (which deals with problems of the heart and blood vessels), nephrology (which deals with diseases of the kidneys), and hospice medicine (which tends to the special needs of patients at the end of life). General internal medicine is considered a subspecialty itself and refers to internists without another specific focus. General internists provide total, primary care for the whole body of adult patients, in sickness or in health.
What is General Obstetrics & Gynecology?
General obstetrician/gynecologists, or general OB/GYNs, are providers of routine care for women’s reproductive health. They offer regular checkups and preventative care to detect illnesses early and keep women healthy. A general OB/GYN cares for a variety of health issues, including:
Sexually transmitted diseases
Annual breast exams
After the age of 18, it is important to see a general OB/GYN regularly for preventative care as well as any needed pregnancy care. When necessary, general OB/GYNs may refer their patients to related specialists such as a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist or Reproductive Endocrinologist. However, women without complicated health issues may continue to see their general OB/GYN for care throughout their reproductive life.