Charting Your Course for Health and Wellbeing: A Closer Look at Medicare Wellness Visits
We all have milestones we look forwardto each year: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations … the list goes on. And, if you’re a medicare enrollee, there’s one more date you should be circling on your calendar each year—your Annual Wellness Visit.
According to John E. Hale, MD, board-certified physician at Beebe Family Practice—Lewes and Medical Director of Primary Care for Beebe Medical Group, the Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) isn’t just an important—though frequently overlooked—benefit for Medicare enrollees. It’s also a valuable opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your primary care doctor, review your history, identify hidden “roadblocks” and potential “potholes” on your current health journey, and establish health goals for future visits.
What is the Annual Wellness Visit
The AWV is a benefit granted to Medicare Part B enrollees once every 12 months. This benefit provides patients with an opportunity to meet with their doctor face-to-face, free of charge, to conduct a deep and thorough assessment of their health and develop a personalized care plan for the future.
Unlike the traditional annual physical exams—or their initial “Welcome to Medicare” visit—the AWV is more informational in nature, providing patients with an opportunity to participate in an open conversation with their doctor and their clinical staff.
“[The AWV] is an opportunity to sit down with the physician with no other problems to be solved,” Dr. Hale says. “Patients have our full attention to review things, ask questions, address concerns, and go through their health status.”
“These visits are typically about a half hour in length, and most of it is an exchange between the patient and the physician to review their conditions and their treatments,” Dr. Hale continues. “Also, unlike a typical office visit, the Annual Wellness Visit is completely covered by Medicare—meaning there are no copays or other out-of-pocket costs.”
According to Dr. Hale, the most important thing patients can do to prepare for—and get the most from—their Annual Wellness Visit is to be organized.
“Sometimes the staff and care provider spend a good deal of effort at the time of the visit trying to find the most recent dates of screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies, eye exams, et cetera,” Dr. Hale says. “These visits are more meaningful if we have all of the information when you come in … Knowing about your test and screening history, as well as your history of specialist visits, prevents us from having to hunt it down during the visit and gives us more time to spend answering your questions.”
Another important way a patient can prepare for the AWV is to come with a complete list of all the medications he or she is taking—including things they may not otherwise consider, like over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements.
“All medications matter,” Dr. Hale says. “We see patients all the time with reactions or problems that may be aggravated by supplements and OTCs, including ‘all-natural’ products and remedies, so it’s important that we have the most complete picture of everything you’re taking to help us identify any issues your medications may be causing.”
What to Expect
According to Dr. Hale, patients can expect their primary care doctor and his or her clinical staff to cover a wide range of health topics over the course of the AWV. “First, you’ll meet with clinical staff to review things, go through medications, things like that,” Dr. Hale says. “This will be followed by a visit with your doctor to review those answers and facts and to organize them into a coherent care plan.”
At the end of the visit, patients are presented with a detailed account of his or her current health state, including a review of their medications, their allergies, their history, how they’re doing currently, and any barriers that are in the way of their health or happiness. Patients will also receive a documented care plan—think of it as a personalized healthcare roadmap. This document will serve as a handy reference point for future wellness visits.
Patients are also given an opportunity to ask any final questions they may have over the course of the visit. “The format of the annual wellness visit allows us to talk in some detail about the patient’s concerns, and I usually do not leave the room until I am satisfied that they do not have any questions … we don’t rush them through it,” Dr. Hale says. “At the end, I’ll ask them if we’ve been thorough, and if they say, ‘Yes,’ at that point we’re finished.”
To take advantage of the AWV benefit, Dr. Hale recommends that patients reach out to their doctor to set up an appointment. For patients who do not currently have a primary care doctor, Beebe Healthcare can refer them to a physician in the area who is currently accepting new patients.
Typically, the patient’s primary care doctor is the best choice because they’re the ones most familiar with the patient’s health history and any issues the patient may currently be dealing with. That said, because this benefit can only be used once a year, it’s important to make the right choice of provider before scheduling—especially if you are a seasonal resident.
“Because this visit is only covered once a year, if you split time between two areas, I would advise that you have the Wellness Visit with the physician in the area where you spend the most time,” Dr. Hale says. “You’ll get the most benefit from the physician who has the most experience with your care history … especially if that care also involves local specialists.”