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Internal Medicine in the Current Health Care Environment: A Need for Reaffirmation

James P. Nolan, MD
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From the State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York. For the current author address, see end of text. Requests for Reprints: James P. Nolan, MD, Department of Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo, 462 Grider Street, Buffalo, NY 14215.

Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1998;128(10):857-862. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-128-10-199805150-00010
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Managed care has substantially changed the environment of health care delivery for general internists and internist-subspecialists. In the current system, one may wonder whether detailed and thoughtful workups still have a role when the direction of medical practice increasingly prizes a high volume of brief encounters. However, the very forces that drive managed care make the role of internist in the care of adults even more central. The internist's unique training and clinical approach should lead to both medically effective and cost-effective health care for adults. This type of health care will be increasingly important as the U.S. population ages and an increasing number of Americans have chronic, multisystem disease. Over the past century, internal medicine has evolved from a consultative model to a discipline that encompasses total adult care, from prevention to diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illness and from outpatient care in the office to inpatient care in the intensive care unit. However, the leadership role of internists in the medical care of adults is now being threatened by family medicine and by fragmentation within internal medicine itself. Managed care organizations and the general public must be shown why internists are better able than family physicians to meet the health care needs of adults. Furthermore, as the marketplace becomes more competitive, the issue of when care given by a subspecialist is superior to that given by an internist has become more prominent. The rapidly developing “hospitalist” movement also threatens the traditional role of the internist as the caregiver for adults in health and disease. Given the historic flexibility of internal medicine and the assumption that appropriate roles can be defined for family physicians, subspecialists, and hospitalists, internists will continue to play a central role in providing the best care for adults in the new world of health care delivery.





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