Checking in with your clinician every year is critical for staying on top of the Preventive Health Screenings that keep you healthy and strong all year long. Annual wellness visits provide the perfect opportunity to touch base with your clinician and make sure you’re on track with your personalized health plan.
Dr. Amine Segueni, an internal medicine physician at Tryon Medical Partners, provides guidance on what an annual wellness visit is, what you can expect at one and what you can do to achieve the maximum benefit from your visit.
What is an annual wellness visit and why is it important?
Patients over 65 who sign up for Medicare coverage have a one-time “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit within the first 12 months of their coverage. After that, if they choose standard Medicare coverage, they can opt to have an Annual Wellness Visit every year with the purpose of creating a personalized prevention plan.
Dr. Segueni describes these yearly visits as the “cornerstone of the patient-clinician relationship” because they provide the opportunity for dialogue focused on risk and prevention rather than treating an immediate condition.
“With these visits, we want to make sure you are not only safe, but enjoying your quality of life and able to perform your day-to-day activities without increased risk of sudden complications that could impact you, your family or your finances,” says Dr. Segueni.
How is an annual wellness visit different from an annual physical?
The clinician will often start by asking the patient to fill out a “Health Risk Assessment.”
Answering these questions will help the patient and their clinician to develop a personalized prevention plan. The visit will also include:
- A review of the patient’s medical and family history, current providers and prescriptions.
- Height, weight, blood pressure and other standard measurements.
- A screening schedule for appropriate preventive services.
The visit may also include:
- A list of risk factors and treatment options.
- A cognitive assessment to look for signs of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
It is a common misconception that annual wellness visits and annual physicals are the same. The key difference is that an annual physical exam is more extensive than an annual wellness visit. Annual physical exams involve a head to toe physical exam and include bloodwork and other tests. The annual wellness visit will just include checking routine measurements such as height, weight and blood pressure.
Dr. Segueni explained, “A simple way to remember the difference is that with an annual wellness visit, the clinician will focus on updating your medical records and discussing current age-based recommendations, and may perform a very limited physical examination.”
Five tips for your annual wellness visit:
- Have your materials ready and come early. The time of your visit is limited so it’s important to have all of the information you need ready to go. This includes a list of medications you’re currently taking and your vaccination records. Arrive 15-20 minutes before the appointment to fill out the pre-visit paperwork. This will give you more time to focus on the important questions with your clinician.
- Be open with your clinician. Take some time to reflect before your appointment. What questions do you have about your health in general, or quality of life? Don’t be afraid to ask! In the same vein, don’t hesitate to share your health philosophy. Dr. Segueni acknowledges we’re not all thinking about our health in the same way. How does your health impact you and your family? How might this affect the decisions you make about your health?
- Keep an eye out for incentives. Because annual wellness visits are so critical in keeping patients healthy, Medicare programs will often offer gift card wellness incentives. Take advantage of these opportunities and you can go shopping after your appointment!
- Don’t wait until you are sick to schedule. Patients should be stable when they schedule their visit. This will allow the annual wellness visit to focus on important discussions around prevention.
- Ensure your visit is fully covered. In order to make sure your annual wellness visit is free, consider checking with your insurance and letting your clinician know that this is your “annual wellness visit” when you schedule.