Difference Between Family Medicine and Internal Medicine

According to the World Health Organization, family medicine is treating patients in the context of family and community. One of the basic principles of family medicine is to consider the patient and his surroundings as one before treating his illness. Family practitioner is usually a doctor with a postgraduate family medicine qualification. A doctor needs to complete his internship, a few years clinical experience to be eligible for the family medicine degree. In UK, this degree is awarded by a royal college. Family practitioner usually treats minor ailments and chronic conditions that can be managed outside of a hospital. Family practitioner has all the details of his patients down to the family history. Where he has no details, he builds up a good rapport with patients and gets the details written down.

Family practice is a consultation done in an office situated away from the hospital. The office is usually in a residential area where people in the area have easy access. A family practice office usually has a waiting area, consultation room, and an examination room. There is an  assistant to the doctor to deal with appointments, cancellations, and maintaining the facilities at the office.

In many countries, tertiary care hospitals have an open door policy. Patients can come and get treatment as they feel necessary even from specialists. But in some countries the situation is more streamlined, and a referral system is in place, to minimize overcrowding. The family practitioner sees the patient first and, if the condition is treatable at an office practice, there will be no further referrals. If the family doctor feels that the patient would benefit from specialist review, then the patient will be referred accordingly. In this situation family practitioner has a big responsibility. In any situation, family practitioner delivers services such as routine checkups, immunization, follow-up, and other preventive healthcare solutions.

What is Internal Medicine?

Internal medicine is hospital based. There are five major disciplines in the internal medicine. They are general medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology. There are wards, clinics and operation theaters with specialized equipment. These facilities are under the care of a specialist level doctor (physician, surgeon, pediatrician, psychiatrist, obstetrician and gynecologist). According to the UK setting, in tertiary care units and teaching hospitals there are senior registrars and registrars working under the consultant. They are post graduates in the service training programs. There are medical officers attached to the unit by the hospital. There are intern medical officers undergoing their post qualification training before they are eligible for registration as full medical officers.

Internal medical practice provides services for patients who need emergency care, in-ward care, and major surgeries. These patients are the ones who cannot be managed at a family practice office. Specialists manage patients at this level and, once they are on the mend, hand them over to the family practitioner to arrange follow up and fine tune the treatment regimen to fit to the individual environment.

Family Medicine vs Internal Medicine

• Family practice is office based while internal medicine is hospital based.

• In the referral system, family practitioner is the first contact medical officer while internal medicine comes a bit later.

• Family practice deals with simple ailments and follow-up of major diseases at a level manageable in the office.

• Internal medicine deals with in-ward care of major clinical conditions.


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