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Make the Most of Wellness Visits

Your Health Matters

For many patients, an annual physical exam appointment at their primary care provider’s office covers pressing needs, but leaves little time to discuss in great detail less-obvious health and mental issues.

To encourage the more in-depth discussion, Medicare introduced annual “wellness” visits. During these separate appointments, a patient’s provider can collect full and current information on the person’s medical, social and environmental situations and then incorporate these into the care plan.

Nothing falls through the cracks.

Douglas Spotts, M.D., FAAFP, vice president and chief population officer for Meritus Health, was a family medical doctor for 22 years and understands the importance of the Medicare wellness visit for patients and providers.

“When patients come in and are sick or are having a standard physical exam, health care providers can become focused on the main conditions we have been monitoring and potentially overlook the assessment of new or developing issues,” says Dr. Spotts.

So, is this wellness visit different?

Most of us hear mention of a “yearly wellness visit” and assume it’s the annual checkup that providers recommend, but this second appointment is very different and patients on Medicare should know what to expect.

“This is a yearly medical assessment of your health that is afforded to any Medicare recipient,” says Dr. Spotts. “It does not take the place of your annual physical exam recommended by your provider.”

The purpose of the wellness visit is to enhance a patient’s plan to stay healthy. During the visit, patients will meet with a nurse or primary care provider face-to-face, ask specific health questions, go through a health risk assessment, make lists of medications and medical equipment used by the patient, go over screening schedules and go through a preventative health maintenance checklist.

“Social determinants of health such as the loss of a spouse, loss of income or changes in lifestyle, are the kinds of things that can be uncovered during this visit that may otherwise have gone unknown,” says Dr. Spotts.

Free resource for Medicare recipients.

“I encourage Medicare recipients to embrace this as it’s provided essentially for free,” says Dr. Spotts.

He believes the information that health care providers can discover during this visit can be invaluable to improving the quality and safety of care that patients receive. While the patient’s specific primary care provider may not necessarily attend the wellness visit, all information gathered during the appointment is reviewed and approved by the primary care provider.

“These annual wellness visits allow primary care providers to develop a more comprehensive understanding of their patients,” says Dr. Spotts.

Take charge of your health

The annual wellness visit available for all Medicare members is another tool to help patients take charge of their health. By assessing all of the details on your illnesses, issues, health history, mental health state, medications and screenings, you and your provider can develop a much more successful and personalized disease prevention plan.

“You owe it to yourself to experience the best possible care that incorporates factors relevant to your life now and into the future,” says Dr. Spotts. “It empowers you, the patient, to play an important role in the future of your health.”

Details on the annual wellness visit are available at medicare.gov.