Primary care is a term for a category of medical practice whereby each patient has a single physician who directs and coordinates the patient's health care. Primary care physicians are often general/family practitioners or internists and are responsible for the general care of their patients as well as the coordination of treatment provided by specialists. Primary care encourages relationship building between physician and patient, creating an environment of knowledge and trust and allowing for a history that helps both patient and physician to detect changes in health status or condition, early on. The concept is also fundamental to most insurance plans in that many of them require patients to see a primary care physician about a problem before visiting a specialist.
Family medicine is one of four subspecialties-pediatrics, family practice medicine, general medicine, and internal medicine-associated with primary care. Because they are licensed to treat all members of a family starting with children above age five and including women of child-bearing age, family medicine physicians undergo training in pediatrics and gynecology, as well a general internal medicine. Family medicine practitioners are required to complete an average of 30 hours of supplemental medical education training each year.
Many of the doctors associated with Roger Williams Medical Center are family practice physicians and have close working relationships with the center's specialists to ensure the utmost continuity of care.
Geriatric medicine is the specialty devoted to the study of old age and the disorders and health requirements of those above 60 years of age. Doctors who specialize in this branch of medicine are called geriatricians.
Often with a background in general or internal medicine, the generalist physician becomes a geriatrician by acquiring special training in the aging process and the diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and rehabilitative aspects of illness in the elderly. Geriatric medicine compares to pediatrics in terms of its understanding of age-specific issues and care. While seniors certainly could see non-specialized internists or generalists, they might be better served by geriatricians' special knowledge, just as a 5-year-old is better served by a pediatrician.
An example of the special skills required for geriatric care is the need to understand drug interactions of the multiple drugs that seniors may be taking and common problems of old age, including incontinence, bone breakage due to falls, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and dementias. To cater to the special needs of the elderly, geriatricians may provide care outside of the office, for example, in patients' homes and nursing homes. They also may utilize non-medical resources such as community social services. In addition, because they have first-hand knowledge of their patients' capabilities they may counsel family members about such issues as the ability to drive a car and the need for nursing care.
Internal medicine deals with the function of the internal organs, such as the liver and lungs, plus the diagnosis and treatment of associated problems. Internists are often primary care physicians, providing the first contact for an unspecified internal illness or problem. They may diagnose and treat the problem themselves, or work in conjunction with a specialist for more focused diagnosis and treatment.