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Internal medicine is a medical specialty devoted to the health and medical needs of adults. Physicians who practice internal medicine are referred to as "internists," and here's how the American College of Physicians -- the national professional organization representing internal medicine -- describes what they do:
Doctors of internal medicine focus on adult medicine and have had special study and training focusing on the prevention and treatment of adult diseases. At least three of their seven or more years of medical school and postgraduate training are dedicated to learning how to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases that affect adults.
The scope of internal medicine is vast, encompassing all organ systems and the wide spectrum of adult medical problems and health concerns. Internists have broad scientific knowledge about how the body works and about the causes and factors that can lead to disease or poor health. With that, they have particular expertise interpreting symptoms and signs, diagnosing and treating a variety of acute and chronic physical and mental health conditions, and helping patients take steps to prevent illness and improve or maintain their health.
Internal medicine physicians therefore 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 their patients request for general health (including screening for heart and blood vessel diseases and cancers) and administer immunizations.
Doctors in this specialty who cover the broad territory described above are known as "General Internists"; others continue training to become experts in one or another subcategory of internal medicine, as in the following list of subspecialties:
|Subspecialty||Focus of clinical expertise|
|Adolescent medicine||Health and wellbeing of teenagers and disorders common in this age-group|
|Allergy and immunology||Allergies and other immune system disorders|
|Cardiology||Disorders of the heart and circulatory system|
|Endocrinology||Disorders involving hormones and endocrine glands|
|Gastroenterology||Disorders of the digestive system, including the liver and pancreas|
|Geriatrics||Health and wellbeing of older adults and disorders common in this age-group|
|Hematology||Disorders of the blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system|
|Infectious disease||Bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections|
|Medical oncology||Diagnosis and medical treatment of cancer|
|Nephrology||Disorders of the kidneys|
|Pulmonology||Disorders of the lungs and respiratory system|
|Rheumatology||Disorders of joints, muscles, and bones|
|Sports medicine||Sports, exercise, and related injuries or disorders (nonsurgical management)|
General internists are often compared to family medicine physicians and lumped together with them in a larger practice category known as "primary care" and called "primary care practitioners" (or PCPs). But while there are many similarities with family practitioners, there are also some important differences; for example, internists typically do not see any pediatric-age patients, while family medicine doctors often do; also, most of the subspecialty training pathways available to internists are not available to family medicine doctors.
General internists 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 (so-called "hospitalists"); while in some rural and/or underserved areas, they will not only do hospital work, but actively manage complex patients in their offices that in other areas would be in the province of subspecialists.
For more information about internists 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