If you're caring for a loved one with dementia, you know how important it is to communicate with everybody on the healthcare team.  That was the subject when Glin Windsor, Practice Manager at Day One, joined Tim Collins on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins.  Windsor talked about the difference between a physical and a wellness plan, and also about medical insurance and documentation of medications.

What to Expect at Your Annual Wellness Visit

Most of us know that it’s important to see a doctor for an annual checkup. During your working years, that annual checkup typically means a full physical. But once you become eligible for Medicare, you’ll likely start hearing about something called an annual wellness visit.

Many people think an annual wellness visit and a physical are one and the same. Although the two have some things in common, their overall purpose is different.

 During a classic head-to-toe physical, a health care professional evaluates your health history, performs a thorough physical examination, and determines if you have any new or existing medical issues that need to be addressed. An annual wellness visit, on the other hand, is primarily focused on preventive care, health screenings and wellness planning. It gives you an opportunity to have a conversation with your doctor about your health status and goals and then create a long-term plan to help you meet those goals and maximize your well-being.

While Original Medicare doesn’t cover an annual physical, – though some Medicare Advantage plans do – everyone enrolled in Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage are eligible for an annual wellness visit for no copay.

The misconception that the annual wellness visit is the same as a physical could be part of the reason why, so few Medicare enrollees take advantage of the benefit — only about 16 percent of beneficiaries enrolled in Original Medicare attended a wellness visit, according to the latest data. Below you’ll find an overview of what to expect from your annual wellness visit — and hopefully the motivation to schedule one.

Taking Stock of Your Medical History

 During your annual wellness visit, your primary care professional will review your relevant medical history, meaning they will ask you about any major illnesses you have had in the past, any surgeries you have undergone, your current medical conditions and the medications you’re taking.

To facilitate this process, your doctor’s office may send you a form ahead of your appointment that includes a list of questions about your health history. Taking time to fill out this form in advance of your appointment can help ensure your doctor has a thorough understanding of your health history and can also remind you of questions you might want to raise at the appointment.

If you don’t get a form before your visit, you should still be prepared to be as detailed as possible when describing any past medical procedures and illnesses. Knowing specific diagnoses and dates will certainly help, but even providing a rough description of major medical events in your life may help your physician understand both your past and current medical issues.

The Who’s Who of Your Health Care Team

Keeping you healthy can be a group effort, and the doctor you see for your wellness visit will want to know who’s part of your health care team. He or she may also want to work closely with other health care professionals involved in your care. Therefore, you should be ready to give the person conducting your visit a list of your current health care providers, including their contact information and their field of specialty. If you have chosen a healthcare surrogate or a proxy who will speak on your behalf should you ever become too sick to speak for yourself, bring a copy of your completed forms to your appointment. If you haven’t made your choices yet, this is a good time to get your physician’s advice on your personal advance care planning.

A Medication Review

Keeping track of all the vitamins, herbal supplements and prescription medications you take can be a daunting task, but your doctor will want to know about all of them. Getting a full rundown of all of your medications can help the doctor spot potential drug interactions that could be harmful to your health, and he or she will also want to ensure you have a complete understanding of each medication, what it’s for and any potential side effects.

Stats and Screenings

The health care provider will generally first check your height, weight and blood pressure. He or she will then likely ask you some questions, including how you have been feeling recently. These questions are designed to test your cognitive function and screen you for depression. It’s important to answer them as honestly as possible and come to the appointment well-rested.

Creating a Wellness Plan

After completing all tests and assessments, your physician will be ready to assess your current health status and work with you to develop a plan to meet your future health goals. That plan will address both how to help treat your current conditions and how to help prevent future health problems. If you have any risk factors for developing new conditions, your doctor will give you some options for managing those risks.

In addition, you will be able to talk about other preventive care or screening tests you might need in the future. The doctor can not only help to set up a schedule for these services but may also discuss treatment options for any newly diagnosed conditions.

It’s this portion of the annual wellness visit that many people find most helpful, so be prepared to get the most out of it by developing a list of questions you would like to ask at the appointment. And don’t be shy with your questions. Unlike a standard doctor appointment, the bulk of an annual wellness visit is generally spent in conversation, so your doctor may have more time than usual to listen to your concerns and answer your questions.

The Bottom Line

When you are prepared, your annual wellness visit can be more than just a doctor’s appointment. It is your opportunity to help take charge of your health and ensure you’re on the right path to living the life you want. So if you haven’t scheduled yours yet, use this as the push you need to get it on your calendar. It could be one of the most important conversations you have all year.

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