What do internal medicine doctors treat?

Internal medicine physicians specialize is figuring out the cause of various symptoms that lead many patients to see a doctor. Although some internists go on to subspecialize in areas such as cardiology, sports medicine and oncology, a doctor with internal medicine training can diagnose and provide non-surgical treatments for conditions that affect all bodily organs and systems. 

Many internal medicine doctors treat minor ailments, such as colds and allergies, as well as more chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and asthma. Doctors of internal medicine also can help patients deal with issues such as substance abuse or mental illness.

If internists have any limitations in their service offering it is their focus on adults. They don't typically treat patients who are younger than 18-years old. Anyone seeking general health care services for children can go to a family practitioner or pediatrician.

doctor of internal medicine

Many internal medicine doctors serve are primary care physicians. Their training lets them diagnose and treat conditions that affect all bodily systems. (Photo courtesy of Apple Valley Medical Center)

Can an internal medicine doctor be my PCP?

Many internal medicine doctors serve as family doctors and primary care physicians. An internist who provides a more general but comprehensive scope of services can perform diagnostics such as physical examinations, bone-density testing, cholesterol testing and pap smears. Internists can treat ear infections, order blood tests and X-rays and offer treatment for menopause. Internists have the training to provide an extensive range of diagnostic and treatment services that typically would have to be done by several different doctors.

Internists complete a three year residency in internal medicine before going on to treat patients with a variety of medical conditions. Subspecialists in internal medicine complete the three year residency, and a two or three year fellowship in their area of interest.

Because internists are specifically trained to treat the entire human body, they have the advantage of being knowledgeable about all bodily functions and organs, which helps in pinpointing an illness or disease regardless of the type of ailment or whether they choose a subspecialty.

Choosing an internist

If you are looking for a doctor with internal medical training, your health insurance  provider is a good place to start. All health insurers have a directory of doctors and facilities they contract with and the providers are categorized by their area of expertise. You'll also want to consult your insurer's directory to find out if an internist you are considering scheduling an appointment is under contract with your health insurer as an in-network provider. Internists are considered specialists. If the physician you choose in not in-network (under contract with our insurer), you could pay higher out-of-pocket expenses for your care.

After you narrow your list of physicians, carefully research the doctors of internal medicine you are considering before you choose one. Verify their medical license, qualifications, board certifications and continuing education through the American Board of Medical Specialties, and consult Angie’s List, to read member reviews and rankings. 

Before you choose an internist, you may want to call the practice to see if it will be a good fit for your needs. Make a list of questions you want answered, including the following: 

  • Does the internist have convenient hours and an easily accessible office site?

  • Who provides backup healthcare in the event of an emergency if your doctor isn't available?

  • Do you feel comfortable and at ease when you visit the internist?

Whether you see an internist or another physician, make sure to get all your questions answered to better select a doctor that's right for you.

Organ transplants

Because internal medicine doctors specialize in solving medical riddles, they may be the first to suspect when a patient needs an organ transplant.  If that turns out to be the case, the internal medicine doctor may even coordinate and oversee transplant recipient's care before, during and after surgery.  For more information, read Angie's List Guide to Organ Transplants.

Bariatric medicine

If your weight gain has gotten so out of control that you can be medically classified as obese, you may want to consult a specialist in bariatric medicine. Several professionals will work with you and your doctor to reach the goal of losing weight and developing healthier eating habits. For more information, read Angie’s List Guide to Bariatric Medicine.

Infectious diseases

Infectious diseases are typically caused by an organism, such as bacteria or a virus, and are transferred through direct contact from person-to-person, animal-to-person or mother-to-fetus. Infectious diseases include childhood illnesses like measles, pertussis and polio, along with meningitis, hepatitis B, swine flu, West Nile virus, HIV/AID, tuberculosis and malaria. For more information, read Angie's List Guide to Infectious Diseases.

Kidney care

Nephrology is a field of internal medicine dealing with the study and functions of the kidneys. Nephrologists treat patients dealing with kidney damage or kidney failure that prevents the body from properly removing waste. For more information, read Angie's List Guide to Kidney Care.


Urology and urologists deal mainly with the bladder, urethra and kidney. A urologist typically focuses on one of seven specialty areas: pediatric, oncology, renal transplantation, male infertility, urinary tract stones, female urology and neurouology.

Learn More: Angie's List Guide to Urology

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