What is a Family Medicine Doctor?

Two little girls and their parents are sitting on the couch together smiling  

In the medical field, a family medicine doctor is a specialized health care provider with additional training focused on treating families.

Within the scope of primary care, these physicians offer a wide range of medical services to people of all ages and genders.

This includes care for acute and chronic illnesses, emergency medical services, women's health care, preventive care, and even educational guidance on maintaining good health.

However, for most patients, "family doctor" often refers to the medical professional—be it a doctor or sometimes a nurse practitioner—whom they consult regularly for routine checkups, vaccinations, and general health care.


The Role of a Family Doctor

Another term often used for a family doctor is "primary care provider." These medical professionals are your first point of contact in the health care system, offering initial assessments, specialist referrals, and general health services.

Factors to Consider

Choosing the right family doctor depends on several factors:

Your age and gender:

  • Medical history
  • Insurance coverage
  • Geographic location

When choosing a health care provider, you have many options. The choices are numerous, from family medicine doctors and internists to general practitioners.

But how do you know which fits your and your family's health care needs?

Knowing what each type of doctor specializes in is crucial when making this important decision.



A Specialist vs. a Family Doctor

Understanding the Roles

To make informed health care choices, it's important to see the distinctions between a specialist and a family provider.

What is a Specialist?

A specialist is a medical doctor who has undergone rigorous post-graduate training in a particular field of medicine, such as neurology, cardiology, or oncology.

These doctors are experts in diagnosing and treating complex medical conditions. Usually, you'll need a referral from a family doctor to consult a specialist.

The Family Doctor's Role

In contrast, family medicine providers offer continuous care, focusing on your overall well-being. They provide preventive services like physical exams and immunizations.

While they can diagnose and treat common illnesses and minor injuries, they usually refer patients to specialists for more complex medical issues.

Navigating the Health care System

On the other hand, family doctors serve as your initial point of contact in the health care system, guiding you through various medical services.

They are clinicians committed to offering the fundamental care required for maintaining good health. This encompasses preventive measures like annual checkups, vaccinations, and treatment for common acute conditions.

The Importance of Both

It's crucial for patients to have a family medicine provider for routine screenings and checkups. This provider can also help you understand when you need to see a specialist for more serious medical issues.


Family Medicine Doctor vs. an Internal Medicine Doctor

A common question many people have is the difference between a family medicine doctor and an internal medicine doctor. Both are often considered primary care providers but serve different roles for your health.

Family Medicine Doctors: These physicians are your go-to for comprehensive health care needs. They usually treat patients of all ages and provide various services, from preventive care to treatment of acute and chronic conditions. Their approach is holistic, often considering the patient's family and community context. Some family medicine doctors have an age range for youth, like 13 and up.

Internal Medicine Doctors, or Internists: These specialists you'd see for complex adult health conditions. They focus on diseases commonly found in adults and often coordinate with other specialists for a comprehensive treatment plan. They do not treat anyone under the age of 18.

When Should You Choose One Over the Other?

  • Pick a family medicine doctor if you're looking for a provider who can cater to the diverse needs of an entire family.
  • Consider an internal medicine doctor if you're an adult dealing with multiple or complex health issues that require specialized care.

Other doctors who can be like a family doctor:

  • Geriatric Medicine Doctors: Specialize in health care for the elderly, including age-related conditions like dementia and arthritis.
  • Pediatricians: Provide medical care for infants, children, and adolescents, including preventive care and nutritional guidance.
  • Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or OBGYNs: Specialize in women's reproductive health, including pregnancy, childbirth, and gynecological issues.
  • General Practitioners: Offer a broad range of family medicine services, including diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions.
  • Nurse Practitioners: Advanced practice nurses who provide primary and specialty care, including diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications.
  • Physician Assistants: Work under the supervision of licensed physicians and provide a range of medical services, including diagnosis, treatment, and surgery assistance.

Finding the Right Doctor

Choosing the right health care provider is a crucial decision that impacts your long-term well-being and your family.

Whether you opt for a family medicine doctor, an internal medicine specialist, or another type of provider, the key is to find someone who meets your specific health care needs and life circumstances.

Take the time to research, ask questions, and consult with professionals to make the most informed choice possible. Your health is worth it.

Find a Primary Care Physician

Search Now

Find a Primary Care Provider

Find a CHRISTUS Health family doctor or primary care provider in Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Search for a Provider

More Primary Care Stories

Family taking a virtual care appointment from the comforts of their home.

How Virtual Care Works with Primary Care

Learn how CHRISTUS Health integrates their telemedicine solution - On Demand Care - with primary care to enhance your healthcare experience. Get immediate access, information sharing, and comprehensive care.

Boost Immunity and Conquer Sickness in 2024 with Proven Strategies

Stay healthy in 2024. Discover essential tips for a strong immune system and have a game plan when sickness strikes through On Demand Care.

CHRISTUS Health’s 2023 Health Recap

Explore CHRISTUS Health's 2023 Health Recap – a comprehensive look at prevalent conditions, top treatments, and expert insights. Uncover the reasons behind health choices, empowering you to make informed decisions for a healthier 2024.

Primary Care Provider: Your Partner in High Blood Pressure Management

On your journey to better health, your primary care provider is your guiding light. They’re your partner in identifying and managing a critical condition – high blood pressure.

Do You Have an Exercise Prescription?

Exercise prescriptions are becoming more popular in health care, as they are a simple way to improve overall health and empower patients. Learn more about the benefits of exercise prescriptions.