Know your options for a primary care physician

Your primary care physician walks with you through many stages in your life. Whether you’re new to the area or looking for a new primary care physician, you want to make sure you’re finding the right fit for you.

Both internal medicine and family medicine doctors are considered primary care doctors, but what’s the difference?

Dr. Walter Ingram, internal medicine physician at Reed Internal Medicine, and Dr. Jason Foster, family medicine physician at Family Medicine of Tonganoxie, shared the differences between the two primary care options.

Family medicine does what its name suggests: It provides medical care for families. Though some internists are certified to provide care for children, family medicine physicians specialize in providing care for pediatric patients and adult patients. These physicians may care for multiple generations of family members at the same time.

“A definition of family medicine would be whole-person care,” Foster said. “We see individuals of all ages and their families.”

An internist typically treats patients who are 18 years and older. To treat children, an internist needs pediatric training along with their internal medicine training. Therefore, internists do not typically see children but focus more on caring for adults and elderly patients.

“The American College of Physicians refers to us as ‘the doctors for adults,'” Ingram said. “As an internist, we will see people that have multiple medical problems and sometimes have long lists of medications.”

Another difference between the two types of physicians is the training they receive during residency.

“At my training institution, those who completed residency in family medicine had more exposure to office-based procedures — everything from pediatrics to geriatrics,” Foster said.

Ingram agreed.

“The difference in residency training between the two practices focuses on emphasis of training,” he said. “Typically, family medicine physicians get training in office-based procedures, but internists are trained in numerous procedures as well.

“Family medicine training is more generalized on their emphasis, anything from obstetrics to geriatrics, while internal medicine is more focused on adults and inpatient medicine,” he added. “A general internal medicine physician is trained in each medicine specialty in residency. At the end of residency, they can go on to practice general internal medicine or continue training to subspecialize in one of the internal medicine specialties.”

Internists can subspecialize in nonsurgical practices such as oncology, rheumatology, immunology, pulmonology or infectious diseases. Ingram said when you see a physician in a specific specialty, the physician is usually an internist.

But even if you’re seeing doctors in multiple specialties, Ingram said, primary care is still important. The specialists may be experts in their fields, but they may not be as well-versed in your medical history or have as strong a relationship with you as your primary care physician, he said.

“No matter who you see, primary care is important,” Ingram said. “Consider primary care the conductor on the train. We manage our patients as a whole and we direct what move they make next.”

“Primary care empowers people to take charge of their health,” Foster said. “It helps people to become more productive, save money, avoid hospitalizations and ER visits and prevent serious diseases before you experience a health-related setback or disaster that could have been avoided.”

— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s health section.


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