Primary Care Provider consulting a woman patient and her toddler daughter.

Choosing between a family practice or internal medicine provider

Finding a primary care provider (PCP) you trust and can communicate with is essential. Often, especially if you don’t keep up with health care lingo, knowing which type of clinician you should choose can be confusing.

What is a PCP?

A PCP is the person you trust to help with your day-to-day health needs and those times when you have an unexpected illness or injury.

PCPs help you with:

  • Diagnosing and managing chronic conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes
  • Evaluation and management of acute illness
  • Immunizations
  • Prescribing medications
  • Health and wellness physical exams
  • Screenings for common health problems
  • Treating minor illnesses and injuries

PCPs are trained to evaluate and treat a broad range of health conditions. Many also specialize in a specific area, like diabetes or geriatrics. Should you need specialized care, your PCP can guide you through the process, referring you to the right specialist if and when needed.

Traditionally, PCPs fall into two main categories – family medicine physicians and internal medicine physicians. While both types of clinicians are PCPs, they can serve you or your family in different ways. Both collaborate and work with advanced practice providers (APPs), such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Other disciplines that serve as PCPs include pediatricians for children and gynecologists for women.

Family medicine providers (physicians and APPs)

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Family medicine providers care for people of all ages – from infants to seniors. So don’t be confused by the word “family” in their title. You do not need children to see a family medicine provider.

Family medicine providers train to diagnose and treat a wide variety of common diseases and acute or chronic conditions for all ages and genders. However, many family medicine providers also go through fellowship training in additional areas like obstetrics, sports medicine and palliative care.

The unique benefits of family medicine providers are that they can care for your entire family. From babies through grandparents, no matter who gets sick, they will have a better understanding of your family’s history. They also offer convenience for busy parents who want to schedule multiple family appointments for the same day.

Internal medicine providers (physicians and APPs)

Internal medicine providers, or internists, provide care for people 18 years and older. Some internists have also trained in pediatrics so they can treat children.

Since internists can narrow their training focus, many specialize in a subspecialty, like arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular, hormone imbalances, geriatrics, lung diseases, gastrointestinal issues, palliative and hospice medicine, and various other disciplines. While these subspecialists tend to focus on narrow specialty issues, general internists tend to treat the whole person in a multi-system approach, sometimes in consultation with their subspecialty colleagues.

Their extra training makes them an ideal choice for adults with unique health concerns or conditions requiring specialized care.

Why choosing a PCP and maintaining a relationship is essential

No matter which type you choose, you should choose a PCP you like and trust. Your PCP will be a long-term partner in your health management, so it’s crucial to select a provider who is right for you and your family.

Last Updated: January 6, 2021

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About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: General, Preventive Health