Wellness Visits Educate Patients
By Judith Black, MD
Most of your patients recognize the importance of visiting a physician when they are sick or have a chronic medical condition. They take their medications and follow the physician’s advice so they can recover quickly or keep a chronic problem well managed.
However, many patients don’t understand how important it is to take the time to discuss preventive care. Fortunately, as of 2011, Medicare is helping pave the way for these important physician-patient discussions to occur and will now pay for an annual wellness visit.
During this visit, plan to discuss a patient’s physical and emotional health over the past year and identify the necessary immunizations and preventive screenings he or she may need. Also complete a thorough medication review. Finish with defining and explaining clear and attainable lifestyle and wellness goals, including the following:
• ways to eat healthfully;
• the proper amount of exercise;
• achieving or maintaining a healthy BMI;
• medication safety; and
• issues related to bladder control.
Additionally, the annual wellness visit presents the perfect opportunity to discuss with aging patients ways to improve balance and prevent falls. Regardless of age, most people don’t expect to experience a fall, especially one that can be life changing. Falls can result in serious injuries that can make it difficult to live independently. Each year, one of every three adults aged 65 and older falls, but fewer than one-half of those individuals speak with their doctors about it. Since medications can cause dizziness, which can result in a fall, encourage patients to bring a list of current medications (prescription, over the counter, vitamins, and supplements) along with a list of questions or concerns relating to preventive care.
While falls threaten older adults’ health and independence, the opportunity to reduce falls has never been better. Today there are proven steps patients can take to reduce the risk of falls and help themselves live better and longer. Before presenting strategies and recommendations, the first step is performing a fall risk assessment.
If patients worry that they may forget to ask some questions or may not understand what they are being told, encourage them to bring a relative or friend to the visit. This will assure you and your patient that he or she understood the information and can follow medical advice. Additionally, consider making a handout for patients detailing what will be discussed during the visit.
An annual wellness visit may be just what you and your patients need. Start reaping the benefits of all the knowledge modern medicine now has to offer about how to redefine the later years with quality and vitality.
For more details about annual wellness visits and a useful reference chart, visit www.cms.gov/Medicare/Prevention/PrevntionGenInfo/Downloads/MPS_QuickReferenceChart_1.pdf.
— Judith Black, MD, is medical director for senior markets at Highmark, Inc in Pittsburgh.
While most physician visits are about treatment, the annual wellness visit is about prevention. Rather than a physical exam, it’s a one-on-one discussion with your physician to review your physical and emotional health from all angles.
At the visit, you and your physician will create a personalized prevention plan based on your current health and risk factors. Best of all, for those with Medicare, an annual wellness visit is covered in full.
During the visit, you should expect your physician to discuss your physical and emotional health over the past year, immunizations and preventive screenings, the medications you are taking, and your lifestyle and wellness goals.
If you think you may forget to ask questions or may not understand what your physician says, feel free to ask a friend or relative to come with you to the visit. Then you can rest assured that you understand what you are being told and that you can follow your physician’s advice for your care.
To make the most of your visit, you’ll find it helpful to take a list of questions or concerns. Be sure to talk with your physician about the following:
• healthful eating;
• your body mass index;
• medication safety; and
• bladder-control issues.
Your visit also is the ideal time to discuss with your physician ways to improve your balance and prevent falls. Regardless of age, most people don’t expect to experience a fall, especially one that’s life changing. Falls can result in serious injuries that can make it difficult to live independently. Each year, one in three adults aged 65 and older falls, but fewer than one-half of those individuals talk to their physicians about falls they’ve experienced. This is cause for concern because among adults aged 65 and older, falls are the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While falls are a threat to your health and independence and can significantly limit your ability to remain self-sufficient, there are proven steps you can take to reduce your fall risk and help you live better and longer. The first step is to talk to your physician about undergoing a fall risk assessment.
One or more of the medications you take may cause dizziness, which could lead to a fall. During your wellness visit, talk openly with your physician about the prescription and over-the-counter medications you are taking to learn about possible side effects or interactions between drugs. Bring a list of all the medications you currently are taking, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements.
Take charge of your health by scheduling your annual wellness visit now because your health matters.