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Annual Wellness Visits—An Ounce of Prevention

As a primary care provider (PCP) who’s been doing Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs) since 2014, I’ve often heard this question from my patients— “What is an Annual Wellness Visit and why do I need one?”

AWVs began as an experiment by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to see if encouraging providers and patients to participate in more preventative health measures would improve the health of individuals, identify (and avoid) potential problems, and subsequently cut the cost of care.

Remember the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” That’s what Annual Wellness Visits are—an ounce of prevention.

Scheduling an Annual Wellness Visit can help prevent health issues from becoming more serious and perhaps even help maintain your independence.

Let’s look at some examples.

You’ve had some issues with balance. You don’t think it’s serious, but balance problems could lead to falls that cause broken bones. Worst case scenario you break a hip, need surgery, and rehab, and possibly end up in assisted living. If you’d had an AWV your provider’s office would note your balance issue and send you for physical therapy to strengthen your bones and muscles and prevent future falls.

You have several chronic medical issues. During your doctor visits, these issues are the focus and the fact that you didn’t get your updated shingles vaccine is overlooked. If you contract shingles and it goes untreated it can cause severe health issues. When you have an AWV, checking for updated vaccines is part of the visit.

You live alone, and over the years your circle of family and friends has grown smaller. Because of the pandemic, you have even less contact with people and aren’t able to go and do like you used to. You start sleeping more and doing less. Without realizing it, you develop clinical depression. With an AWV, your provider’s office catches the depression early and starts medication and recommends online support groups, wellness programs, and possibly therapy.

These are just a few examples of how an Annual Wellness Visit can help you and your provider recognize, treat, and prevent common health issues.

An AWV can take as little as 15-20 minutes and it’s a covered service with a $0 copay with an in-network provider. Most are performed by a trained member of your provider’s clinical staff and they include measurements of height, weight, and blood pressure, a review of any specialists you see, screenings for memory loss and depression, a review of screenings you may need (mammogram, colon cancer, etc.), a fall risk assessment, and an immunization review.

When you schedule your appointment, your primary care provider’s office may be able to gather some of this information over the phone—like whether you’ve had screenings or immunizations already. But you should bring a list of any specialists, medications, and immunizations (especially if you got them at your pharmacy or another provider’s office) with you to your AWV.

AWVs are different from your annual physical exams. Your annual physical exam is a more extensive exam performed by your doctor; it usually includes bloodwork and other tests.

Both visits are important and provide the information you and your doctor need to keep you healthy.

Dr. Beth Hodges, MD is a family practice and palliative care/hospice physician in Asheboro, N.C., as well as a part-time medical director for HealthTeam Advantage.

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