There are more than 50,000 active internists in the United States. Following medical school, an internist spends spends at least three years in a residency program. After medical training and (for some) board certification, most internists venture into community-based private practice where they provide adults with acute care, such as diagnosis and treatment of the common cold or flu, as well as chronic care, such as maintenance care for diabetes or obesity. Internists can also provide preventative care, such as vaccinations, and health education.
Like family practitioners, internists often serve as the first point of contact for a health problem, and are called upon by patients to make referrals to specialists. A busy internist may commit medical malpractice by not making a referral to a specialist when the knowledge of a specialist is necessary. According to a recent study of legal claims made against internists:
- 58% concerned an improper diagnosis;
- 23% concerned improper medical treatment;
- 9% concerned improper prescription of medication; and
- 2% concerned improper monitoring of a known condition.
- 30% concerned cardiac conditions;
- 25% concerned infections;
- 18% concerned cancer;
- 10% concerned neurological disorders; and
- 9% concerned gastrointestinal disorders.