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The American Academy of Family Physicians defines Family Medicine as follows:
"Family medicine is the medical specialty which provides continuing, comprehensive healthcare for the individual and family. It is a specialty in breadth that integrates the biological, clinical and behavioral sciences. The scope of family medicine encompasses all ages, both sexes, each organ system and every disease entity."
An easier way to think about this specialty is that its practitioners probably come closest to what people use to call "General Practitioners" or GP's. But while we tend to think that generalists aren't specialists, part of what makes Family Medicine a specialty in its own right is the "breadth" in the above definition -- these doctors know and can do a lot about a lot of health issues and can be the best starting point to find the right resources for health conditions that need more specialized care.
Family Medicine physicians usually address and manage a broad array of health issues -- heart disease; diabetes; high blood pressure; injury care; muscle, bone and joint problems; psychological issues; stomach, intestinal and urinary system complaints; minor surgical procedures; and allergies and infections. In addition, they will do the annual physicals needed for school or sports or desired for general health (including screening for heart disease and cancer) and administer immunizations.
They are most often compared to Internal Medicine physicians, and often lumped together with internists in a larger practice category known as "primary care" and called "primary care practitioners" (or PCPs). But while there are many similarities with internists, there are some important differences, too. (For example, internists typically do not see any pediatric patients.)
Family Medicine doctors typically collaborate closely with physicians in other specialties; but depending on their training, experience and the location of their practices, they may take on more or less of some of this work themselves. For example, in urban and suburban settings some of them may concentrate on their office practices, consult liberally with other specialists, and refer patients needing hospitalization to doctors specializing in Hospital Medicine ("hospitalists"); while in some rural and/or underserved areas, they will not only do hospital work, but sometimes handle women's health, deliver their babies, then provide the newborn and pediatric care.
At The Chester County Hospital, physicians in the "Active" category of our Medical Staff's Department of Family Medicine still care for their patients when they are hospitalized here; those in the "Affiliate" category do not. Only Obstetricians deliver babies, but some Family Medicine doctors take care of newborns.
Overall, Family Medicine physicians can and do provide a wide range of healthcare services for people in pediatric to geriatric age groups and to everyone in between. As their name indicates, that often means the whole family.
For more information about family medicine physicians on the Medical Staff at The Chester County Hospital and Health System, call our Physician Referral Service at 610.738.2300 or visit the Find a Doctor section of our website.
Last Updated: 2/22/2013