Annual wellness visits being offered

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Medicare patients now have access to an excellent health benefit: the Medicare wellness visit. Patients become eligible for the initial “Welcome to Medicare Wellness Visit” upon enrollment in Medicare.

After that, patients are eligible to receive an annual wellness visit. These visits are focused on wellness — preventing disease and maintaining good health, according to a press release from Kaniksu Health Services.

The AWV was initiated as health statistics showed that chronic illnesses such as hyperlipidemia, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes — often caused by modifiable risk factors — were not well managed, and were associated with significant spending increases, particularly for Medicare beneficiaries.

The fact that Medicare recognizes the importance of preventive services and is willing to pay for them is a big step forward. Having a separate visit dedicated solely to wellness and prevention ensures adequate time for a comprehensive discussion of each patient’s overall health, health history and lifestyle issues.

The Medicare wellness visit is different from what people have come to know as an annual ‘head-to-toe’ physical since the visit doesn’t focus on a patient’s physical exam nor conducts a series of lab tests to address physical conditions. The wellness visit is considered a ‘hands-off’ visit that’s focused on a patient’s health history, risk factors, review of age-appropriate screenings, and education on disease management and self-care.

Many people can have trouble understanding health care information — especially if they have multiple conditions, Kaniksu official said in the press release. The wellness visit strives to improve health literacy which plays a role in helping patients take the right medicine at the right time, or properly manage complex conditions like diabetes or congestive heart disease.

Each wellness visit includes an in-depth discussion of a patient’s:

• Health history

• Medications, vitamins, supplements

• Weight and body mass index

• Nutrition

• Physical activity

• Tobacco use and cessation options

• Functional abilities, safety and fall prevention

• Vision and hearing screen

• Cognitive abilities and depression screening,

• Age-related health screenings including abdominal aortic aneurysm, bone-density, cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, colonoscopy, diabetes, mammogram, etc.

• Review of care received from other providers and specialists

• Lifestyle tips on maintaining wellness and reducing risks for chronic diseases

The goal of the AWV is to ensure each patient has received age-appropriate screening tests and vaccinations, and if they are not up to date, order the tests/screens covered by Medicare. If a patient needs an immunization, their provider will offer that during the visit. This visit also gives each patient an opportunity to review their medical conditions, and receive education on reducing risk factors.

While the annual “head-to-toe” physicals are not covered by Medicare, both the traditional physicals and wellness visits are covered by most Medicare Advantage plans.

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