Know the difference between internal and general medicine

Medicine is a very broad term and comprises multiple specialties and sub-specialties all of which serve a different or inter-linked purpose. However, a speciality that broadly studies multiple diseases affecting the body and the primary treatment of which does not involve surgery – is known as internal medicine or general medicine. Both internal medicine and general medicine are used interchangeably to define a medical specialty that involves scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to diagnose and treat a spectrum of diseases affecting adults. Physicians specialising in internal medicine are called internists, who are specially trained in diagnosing complex and puzzling medical problems, in patients who have more than one disease. Internists also focus on promoting health and preventing diseases. Even though an internist can treat both common illness and complex health problems; general patient problems that internists attend on an everyday basis include heart diseases, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and chronic lung disease. An internist basically looks at the whole problem, assessing how the body is functioning, its systems, etc. because a problem in one area can cause complications in another. Internists have extensive training in each of the specialities of internal medicine, including endocrinology, rheumatology, neurology and infectious diseases.

While an internist may care for the patient like a primary care physician, even though they are vastly different from general practitioners or family physicians, which are not solely focussed on dealing with adult medical problems and can include surgery, obstetrics and paediatrics. Internists also have a clear understanding of when a referral is needed and what type of referral is required. In cases that require specialised medical consult, an internist may call upon other doctors from the concerned speciality to provide consultation; and vice-versa – an internist can also provide consultation for another patient.

The term internal medicine is derived from the German word – Innere Medizin – which came to prominence in the 19th century in Germany as a term to describe physicians that combined the laboratory science with patient care. Then, American doctors studying medicine in Germany bought the world to prominence in the United States of America, from where the name – Internal Medicine – was popularised globally.

Some diseases and problems that are treated by doctors specialising in internal medicine are:

  • Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood pressure
  • Sinus Infections
  • Allergies
  • Immunity issues
  • Hormone disorders
  • Diseases of the gut
  • Kidney diseases
  • Cancer
  • Lung disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Musculoskeletal disorders

That said, internists specializes in dealing with complex and chronic health problems such as heart issues, while they are also trained to assess acute problems such as a sprain or sinus infection. Internists analyse symptoms, perform tests, make diagnoses, suggest treatment, administer vaccinations, and also recommend preventive measures. The field is full of variety and is expansive in nature.

General internists practice in a variety of settings and are trained exclusively to practice primary care and also follow up with patients over the duration of adult lives, meanwhile forming continued and rewarding personal relationships with the patients.

Role of an Internist or General Internists

An internist or general internist is known to not have specialized in any particular disease, instead is specialized in a variety of diseases affecting various body parts. In that context, the role of an internist becomes very critical to cure patients. Some of the roles that an internist or general internist plays are:

Global approach: The assessment provided by internists will always be comprehensive analysing the disease form a broader perspective to provide better diagnosis and treatment options.

Complex care: Even though internists can handle multiple minor to major problems, including expertise in handling complex problems where the diagnosis may be difficult.

Diagnosis and treatment: The internists or general internists generally carry out several diagnostic tests and examinations to assess the condition. Moreover, internists try to cure the problem with other methods than surgery in the first place. The general internists specialise in making treatment decisions to help patients with complex problems.

Pre- and post-operative assessment: General internists review patients before surgery and advise them about the risk and also provide appropriate recommendations to minimise the risk of surgery. Moreover, they also provide assistance in postoperative care, as well as current medical problems.

That said, a unique mix of knowledge, training and skills makes general internists stand out as compared to other specialised practitioners.