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Choosing a quality primary care physician who you like, and who can provide the very best care for you is important to your long-term health. Even if you’re a very healthy person, having a primary care physician means you always have someone to call with any health concern, whether it’s something as simple as a seasonal cold or allergies, or something more serious like chronic pain.

Many people find a primary care physician (PCP) they really like, and then choose to stick with that PCP for years, even decades. This kind of long-term care means you’re building a relationship with a doctor who knows your medical history firsthand, and can provide care that promotes your complete health. 

If you’re looking for a primary care physician, you’ve probably run into two different types of PCPs: those who practice family medicine, and those who practice internal medicine. Let’s take a look at these two key types of physicians, so you can make a decision about which type of primary care provider is best for you. 

When It Comes to Primary Care, What’s the Difference Between Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Functional Medicine?

When it comes to primary care, most PCPs who care for adults practice either family medicine or internal medicine. Both types of physicians are capable and well-trained to care for adults. An internal medicine doctor (also called an internist) cares just for adults. A family medicine practitioner cares for the whole family — from children to teens to adults. 

If you’ve recently started looking for a new PCP, you’ve probably heard another term quite a bit: functional medicine. 

How does functional medicine fit into the family medicine vs internal medicine question? 

Functional medicine, rather than indicating who a physician can provide care for, like an internist or family care physician, refers to how a physician provides care. Functional medicine focuses on getting to the root cause of a disease, rather than prescribing medications and care that only address symptoms. Both family medicine practitioners and internal medicine practitioners can practice functional medicine as your primary care provider. 

While functional medicine can take many forms, here at PrivaMD | Physicians, our family medicine and women’s health practitioners use their training to focus on the “functional” side of medicine to work with patients on an individual and personal level. They work with you to learn more about your health and wellness journey and are able to provide comprehensive, holistic health care that combines both traditional medicine and natural health care remedies to get to the heart of your health concerns, and address diseases at their root cause. 

With a better idea of what functional medicine is, and how family medicine and internal medicine doctors use it, let’s turn to our original question: How do you choose whether a family medicine or an internal medicine doctor is right for you?

It’s helpful to have a clear understanding of what care both types of physicians are trained in, so you can choose the best primary care physician for you. 

What Does a Family Medicine Doctor Do?

A family medicine doctor cares for the whole family. A family medicine physician must complete a three-year residency program after medical school. 

Family medicine residencies include training in pediatric medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, internal medicine, geriatric care, and more. Because family medicine doctors care for patients at any age, they are thoroughly trained to recognize and diagnose a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, as well as common skin diseases and behavioral health issues. 

A family medicine doctor is trained to care for patients at any age, and may specialize in certain areas related to overall wellness and preventative care, like functional medicine. 

One common question that people ask about family medicine is:

Do I have to have a family to see a family medicine primary care provider? 

The answer to that is no. 

Any adult can choose a family medicine doctor for their primary care provider. Because family medicine practitioners do often care for entire families, they might care for one person from when they’re a newborn to adulthood. Continuity of care is a key advantage to choosing a family medicine doctor, especially if you are looking for a practitioner who offers functional medicine. Patients can develop a close relationship with their primary care physician from the time they are children well into adulthood. 

What Does an Internal Medicine Doctor Do?

While a family medicine physician cares for the whole family, an internal medicine doctor cares primarily for adults. Just like a pediatrician specializes in caring for children, an internist specializes in adult medical care. 

Like a family medicine doctor, an internal medicine doctor must also complete a three-year residency following medical school. This residency usually includes everything from general medical conditions to extensive training in subspecialties like neurology, psychiatry, endocrinology, rheumatology, dermatology, and more. Internalists also have experience caring for patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings, which means they can provide continuing care to adult patients who are hospitalized for any reason. 

Internal medicine doctors or internists are ideal for adults who are looking for a primary care physician just for themselves, and for those adults who might have health concerns or conditions that could require more specialized care. 

Does PrivaMD | Physicians Offer Primary Care Services?

Yes! At PrivaMD, many of our physicians practice functional medicine and accept patients in the role of primary care provider. While we do not have internists, or internal medicine physicians on staff, our family medicine and women’s health physicians offer primary care for adults and children. If you’re interested in functional medicine for yourself, or for your family, our physicians can help you. 

It’s important to know that whether you choose a family medicine or internal medicine physician, you should choose a primary care doctor you like and trust. No matter what type of doctor you choose, this physician will be a partner in your long-term health and well-being, so it’s important to select a doctor who is right for you and your family. 

PrivaMD | Physicians is proud to provide primary care services to any of our patients. Whether you’re seeking a PCP for yourself or the whole family, our staff of family care physicians and women’s health physicians are dedicated to working with you to provide the functional care that helps you all stay healthy and well. PrivaMD | Physicians accepts all major insurance plans too.  For more information about our family, women’s health, and functional medicine physicians currently accepting new patients, please contact us online or call our team at 616-213-0253.

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