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An internist, or doctor of internal medicine, is a doctor who treats diseases, infections, and other internal medical conditions and disorders. Internists are a type of primary care physician, meaning they work directly with patients in a non-surgical setting to provide continuing care and to treat a variety of conditions.
Currently, there are about 180,000 internal medicine doctors in the United States.
Internal medicine doctors are considered specialists. This means that after completing medical school, doctors will need to undergo 3 years of specialty training called a general internal medicine residency. During their residency, internal medicine doctors will focus on adult patient care and the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of various diseases.
Internists can choose to complete an additional 1-3 years of training (fellowship) to sub-specialize in areas such as:
- Cardiology (heart)
- Adolescent medicine
- Oncology (cancer)
- Sports medicine
- Geriatrics (care of the elderly)
- Endocrinology (gland disorders)
- Pulmonology (lungs)
- Allergy and immunology
- Sleep medicine
- Infectious disease
- Rheumatology (joints, muscles, and bones)
- Gastroenterology (digestive system)
- Transplant hepatology (care for patients before and after liver transplants)
After completing medical school, doctors will be required to take a licensing exam for the state where they want to practice medicine. Each state has specific standards for a medical license; see the full list here.
This license will allow the doctor to practice any type of medicine in the state, but does not mean the doctor has any qualifications in a specific area. Board certifications are an optional but crucial way for doctors to solidify credentials in a specific area of medicine. Internal medicine doctors would need to be certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).
Board certified doctors will need to complete certain activities to maintain their certification, including completing a number of Maintenance of Certification (MOC) activities every two years, earning enough points from those activities every five years, and retaking the certification exam every ten years.
Internal medicine doctors do not handle high-risk procedures like surgeries, so patients will pay lower premiums. Premiums for internists will vary by the insurance company, and the state where the doctor practices medicine.
Where Internists Work
Internal medicine doctors can work out of hospitals, private practices, and nursing homes. While many internists work in family health settings, they are more commonly found in hospitals and clinical settings. Internists working in hospitals (“hospitalists”) and clinics will advise on and coordinate patients’ treatments.
Average salaries for internal medicine doctors range from $188,500 to $240,000. Internists who have a sub-specialization often receive even higher salaries.
How They Help People
Internal medicine doctors often act as personal primary care physicians and develop long-term relationships with patients they see regularly for years. Since internists are trained to understand complex interworking of internal medical conditions, they often work to diagnose and treat perplexing medical conditions and may provide expertise diagnostic and treatment help to other types of doctors.
An internist will usually work with patients who have multiple conditions to manage or who have chronic conditions.
Internists only work in non-surgical settings. They will refer their patients to specialists when additional treatment is needed or if the patient faces a condition that requires a doctor with additional specializations.
Internists typically treat only adolescents and adults unless they have a specific specialization in pediatrics.
Services internal medicine doctors can perform include:
- Treat common disorders like heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disorders
- Manage long-term treatments for health problems
- Provide treatment for health issues like infections and influenza, along with other serious chronic issues
- Order and analyze test results
- Make diagnoses for complex conditions and alter treatment plans when needed
- Provide immunizations
- Provide consulting for doctors treating other patients
- Refer patients to medical specialists when needed
Medical Negligence and Internal Medicine Doctors
Internal medicine doctors treat a variety of conditions in patients. Common malpractice claims against internists span a range of different medical conditions.
Medical studies have found that most malpractice claims against internists relate to errors in diagnosis, either a failure to diagnose or a delay in diagnosis. About a quarter of all malpractice claims against internists deal with medical treatment errors or negligence— specifically improper treatment and negligent treatment. A smaller amount of cases deal with medication management and patient monitoring.
Errors in diagnosis can mean that a doctor failed to listen to a patient’s symptoms, lacked the proper knowledge to diagnose those symptoms, or failed to refer the patient to a specialist with more knowledge about certain conditions. As an example if an internal medicine doctor failed to refer a patient experiencing rectal bleeding or other gastrointestinal complaints to a GI doctor and that patient is later diagnosed with untreatable colorectal cancer the internal medicine doctor may have committed malpractice by failing to refer the patient to the proper specialist earlier. Internal medicine practitioners are able to diagnose and treat common medical conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure, but internists are primary care physicians, meaning that they should be the first point of contact for patients with common internal medical disorders, but internists can only treat these orders to an extent. These doctors need to know when to refer their patients to specialists for additional care.
Medical Malpractice Attorneys
If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered serious injury as a result of an internal doctor’s negligence, you need an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian have a proved track record of success in getting victims the compensation they deserve after medical negligence. Call our offices today for a free consultation and to learn more about your legal options. We will not charge any attorney fees until you get the compensation you deserve.