If you are looking for a new primary care provider, you may notice that some providers have “internal medicine” listed under their name. This can be confusing for those unfamiliar with the term. You may ask yourself, “Can an internal medicine doctor still be my primary care provider? How is internal medicine different from family medicine? Do they only treat diseases that affect internal organs?”
To help clear some of that confusion, Samuel J. Stelmach, MD, Iredell Internal Medicine, helps explain what internal medicine is, how internal medicine differs from family medicine, and why he decided internal medicine was the right career path for him.
As National Internal Medicine Day approaches, celebrated on October 28, it’s the perfect time to learn more about internal medicine and see if an internal medicine doctor is right for you.
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What is internal medicine?
When you see “internal medicine” under the provider’s name, you may initially think that the doctor is focusing on diseases that affect the internal organs. In fact, according to Stelmach, this is a very common misconception.
“A lot of people think that internal medicine doctors only treat internal systems when they actually treat most medical conditions in the body,” Stelmach said.
Although the word “internal” can be misleading, an internal medicine doctor treats much more than just the organs inside your body.
These doctors focus on treating all kinds of diseases and conditions in adult patients – from the age of 18 through the very old years. Some internal medicine doctors see children as well, but to do so, they must have additional training in pediatrics.
Internal medicine is the largest primary care specialty in the United States, and an internal medicine doctor can be your primary care provider.
Internal medicine doctors may also be called internists, general internists, or internal medicine physicians. Their training includes medical school and an additional three years of training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of adult diseases. They can also choose to undertake additional training in subspecialties such as cardiology, oncology, or gastroenterology, to name a few.
These doctors can provide care in the office or clinic, during a hospital stay, and in nursing homes.
How is internal medicine different from family medicine?
Both internal medicine and family medicine are primary care specialties, so you can choose one of them as your primary care provider. However, the main difference between the two is that internal medicine doctors mainly treat adults 18 and over, while family medicine doctors treat patients of all ages.
Internal medicine focuses strictly on the care of adults, so it is more specialized in this regard as there is no focus on infants or children. In general, an internal medicine physician has more subspecialty training as well,” Stelmach said.
Internal medicine physicians have special training in adult medical care and provide ongoing care for chronic diseases. They are experts in complexity because they often care for patients with more than one chronic illness.
All physicians face complex decisions due to dealing with many chronic conditions. Since internal medicine sees more patients as life expectancy than family medicine, it is likely, on average, that internal medicine will deal with more complex interactions of various medical conditions.”
Another difference, internal medicine physicians have extensive hospital training and inpatient care, so they are more likely to work in a hospital environment than a family physician. Therefore, if you are hospitalized, you will most likely be under the care of an internist. Internal medicine doctors who work in a hospital are often referred to as hospital doctors.
Family medicine and internal medicine doctors both treat similar conditions. According to Stelmach, some of the conditions he sees a lot include high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and COPD.
If you are an adult and are currently treating a chronic illness, an internal medicine doctor may be an excellent option for you. However, healthy adults can also choose an internist as their primary care provider.
Why did Stelmach choose Internal Medicine?
“The choice to be well-versed in many aspects of medicine and treatment for different medical conditions, and to be able to do this either on the outpatient or inpatient side without hesitation, if necessary, is what drew me to internal medicine,” Stelmach said.
Seeing his patients’ medical conditions improve is what he finds most helpful in his job.
Stelmach practices at Iredell Internal Medicine, located at 757 Bryant St. , in Statesville, is receiving new patients. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Samuel Stelmach, call the office at 704-873-5658.