Are you planning for your healthcare? If you’re like most people, you probably don’t have much of a plan. But with age come many changes, including an increased need for healthcare services. The Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) helps older adults better plan for their healthcare needs. Few eligible seniors, however, have taken advantage of it.
“There is certainly a great deal of misinformation regarding these visits,” says geriatrician Jonathan Wanagat, MD, UCLA Division of Geriatrics. “Many patients believe they are akin to a Complete Physical Exam, but Annual Wellness Visits do not involve exams like those associated with annual physicals.”
That’s a very important point because while the Annual Wellness Visit is free, there are very strict parameters for what’s included. It is not a head-to-toe exam. Rather the objective is to build a plan of preventive healthcare based on forms, assessments, and indepth conversations.
The person with whom you meet may be a clinician, such as a nurse from your doctor’s office, or it could be your physician. Each office makes its own determination on who will administer the AWV.
The AWV: Your Personalized Prevention Plan
If you’ve had Medicare Part B for longer than 12 months, you are eligible for this visit. It starts by filling out a questionnaire called a “Health risk assessment.” Filling out healthcare forms can feel like a tedious chore, but much of what you do for your AWV can be helpful beyond your doctor’s door.
The following are some of the items available during an AWV. Dr. Wanagat recommends that patients review the covered preventive services and be prepared to discuss which ones interest you. A comprehensive list can be found at www.medicare.gov/coverage/preventive-visit-and-yearly-wellness-exams.html
A review of your medical and family history. This is useful because some conditions have a genetic component. As part of a prevention plan, knowing your history can inform which screenings or tests are especially relevant to you.
Developing or updating a list of current providers and prescriptions. This list is helpful to your physician and anyone who may be involved in your care. For example, you might give this list to a trusted friend or a family member. It’s also something you can place in your home (such as on your refrigerator or medicine cabinet), where emergency medical personnel can easily find it.
Height, weight, blood pressure, and other routine measurements. Though these are very basic measurements, they do have meaning to your health. Weight loss or gain can spark a conversation about what you are eating; a change in height could be related to something as simple as poor posture or something more serious, such as osteoporosis of the spine.
Screening for cognitive impairment. Many seniors worry about their brain health. Occasionally forgetting where you parked your car, someone’s name, or the day of week is considered normal as people get older. Cognitive tests can reveal if there is anything more substantial regarding your mental health.
A screening schedule for appropriate preventive services. This is typically a personalized checklist that can help you stay on top of important screening services and reveal which ones may be needed. For example, Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) are five times more likely to have the hepatitis C virus than other adults. This virus can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer. A timely screening test can catch the virus before such serious damage occurs.
Advance Care Planning. These are very important but often overlooked documents. It is your opportunity to state your plan of care if you are suddenly unable to speak for yourself, such as if you have a stroke or fall into a coma. Your healthcare provider can explain which forms are especially important and can help you fill them out.
After your first AWV, subsequent visits update the items already provided. Any service or test beyond AWV’s scope may result in an additional charge, copay, or deductible. For example, blood and urine tests are not part of the AWV.
To find out if a particular screening, shot, or other preventive service is included under Medicare, you can enter the name of the test, item, or service into an online search box at www.medicare.gov/coverage/your-medicare-coverage.html.
Powered by WPeMatico