Once you become eligible for Medicare, you'll likely start hearing about something called an annual wellness visit. Many people think it’s the same as a physical, but it isn’t.
Unlike a standard head-to-toe physical, an annual wellness visit focuses on preventive care, health screenings and wellness planning. It’s an opportunity to have a conversation with your doctor about your health status and goals, and to 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, some Medicare Advantage plans do. Everyone enrolled in Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage is eligible for an annual wellness visit at no additional cost. If your plan includes coverage for an annual comprehensive physical exam, ask your provider if the exam can be scheduled during the same visit.
What to expect from your annual wellness visit:
Taking stock of your medical history
Your primary care professional will review your relevant medical history, including major illnesses, surgeries, your current medical condition and medications you're taking.
Your doctor's office may send you a form with a list of questions ahead of your appointment to ensure your doctor has your health history and remind you of questions you might have during your appointment. If you don't get a form before your visit, be prepared to share a detailed history of past medical procedures and illnesses.
The who's who of your health care team
The primary care provider will want to know who's part of your health care team, so prepare a list of your current health care providers, including contact information and field of specialty.
You may have chosen a health care surrogate or a proxy to speak on your behalf should you become too sick to speak for yourself. If so, 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.
An Rx for a productive medication review
Bring a list of all your vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements and prescription medications so the doctor can spot potential drug interactions that could be harmful. The doctor will want to ensure you have a complete understanding of each medication, what it's for and any potential side effects.
The list should include how often you take each medication and the dosage. Better yet, bring all your pill bottles to your appointment and show them to the provider.
Stats and screenings
A clinician will check your height, weight and blood pressure, and your provider 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. Answer them as honestly as possible and come to the appointment well-rested so you can perform your best on the tests.
Creating a wellness plan
After completing all tests and assessments, your provider will assess your current health status and work with you to develop a plan to meet your health goals. That plan will address how to treat your current conditions and how to prevent future health problems. If you have any risk factors for developing new conditions, your provider will give you some options for managing those risks.
You can also set up a schedule for preventive care or screening tests, and discuss treatment options for any newly diagnosed conditions.
Get the most out of this visit by developing a list of questions to ask at the appointment. And don't be shy with your questions. During the exam, your provider should have more time than usual to listen to your concerns and answer your questions.
Whatever your health goals are, your provider can't help you reach them if he or she doesn't know about them. So be as open and honest as possible during your visit.
Things to keep in mind
Make sure the appointment is scheduled specifically as an annual wellness visit, or the provider may bill it as a normal office visit, which could be subject to a copay, depending on your plan. If your provider orders a test during the visit, you may be charged any applicable lab or diagnostic copay for the recommended services.
The bottom line
When you are prepared, your annual wellness visit is more than just an office visit. It is your opportunity to take charge of your health and ensure you're on the right path to living the life you want. 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.