Medicare Annual Wellness Visit: What It Is & Why It Matters

Jeffrey L. Kent, DO is a board-certified primary care physician practicing family medicine at Inova Primary Care – Sterling. As a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, he focuses on health promotion and disease prevention. Dr. Kent partners with each patient to create a personalized plan to manage chronic disease and meet their health goals.

Each year, we take steps to maintain our car and our home: We arrange for tune-ups, change the filter in our furnace and rake the leaves. We do it because we know that preventing issues or finding them early is a lot less costly and damaging than waiting for problems to arise.

The same theory holds true for the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) — a free offering for anyone who has acquired Medicare coverage. This yearly appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) isn’t something you have to do. But taking advantage of the AWV gives you a personalized prevention plan for your health.

Here’s what you need to know:

What the Annual Wellness Visit Includes

The Medicare AWV is different than your yearly physical exam. During a physical exam, your PCP tests reflexes, checks vital signs and submits urine and blood samples for lab testing. It includes an examination of your body including your lungs, head, neck and abdomen. As the name suggests, the annual physical is a hands-on exam.

Your AWV is more of a conversation with your PCP to review the steps you are taking (or should be taking) to stay healthy. The goal of your AWV is to prevent the conditions commonly seen in people over age 65.

During an AWV, you can expect:

Routine Measurements and Medical History Review

The appointment will include a check of your height, weight, blood pressure and other measurements. Your PCP will also review your family medical history. During this time, you’ll want to report any changes to family health status since your last visit.

Medication Review

Your AWV is a great time to evaluate the medications you take on a regular basis — that includes vitamins and supplements. You’ll have an opportunity to discuss any side effects or concerns you have about your medication. The review may include:

  • Checking expiration dates
  • Identifying possible drug interactions
  • Scheduling medication refills
  • Updating the list of medications and providers in your medical records

Vaccine Check

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends specific vaccines for people 65 and older. The vaccines prevent infections such as influenza (flu), pneumonia, shingles and tetanus.

Your PCP will review your vaccination history during your AWV and make recommendations if you are eligible for additional vaccines. You’ll need to schedule a follow-up appointment to get the needed vaccinations, or your PCP may offer to administer it during your AWV for an additional cost.

Referrals for Disease Screenings

Your PCP will work with you to create a screening schedule or checklist based on your age, family history and health status. The purpose of screening is to identify disease before you develop symptoms, when treatment is most effective. Once there are disease symptoms present, treatment options may be more limited or not as successful.

Men and women 65 and older may be eligible for Medicare-covered services to prevent:

  • Colon cancer (colonoscopy)
  • Breast cancer (mammogram)
  • Prostate cancer (digital rectal exam or PSA blood test)
  • Osteoporosis (bone density scan)

Health Risk Assessments

During the wellness visit, your PCP will ask questions to evaluate your risk for health issues common in older adults. The questions asked during the AWV are not typically asked during your yearly physical exam. Your PCP is screening for:

  • Dementia and memory loss
  • Depression
  • Fall risk and mobility issues
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Vision issues

Your PCP uses this screening along with your medical history to determine whether you are eligible for preventive services.

Guidance for Advance Care Planning

Medicare covers advance care planning as part of your AWV. This service helps you plan for care in the event you become unable to speak for yourself. Your wellness visit is a good opportunity to discuss your options and document your wishes for future medical treatment — a legal document known as an advanced directive.

How to Prepare for the Medicare Wellness Exam

To get the most out of your AWV, you may want to take some simple steps before your appointment, including:

  • Bring in all your medication bottles, including supplements and vitamins
  • Fill out the Health Risk Assessment questionnaire in your Inova MyChart patient portal to save time during your visit
  • List any new medical information and diagnoses needed to update your personal and family medical history

To set up your Annual Medicare Wellness Visit, schedule an appointment with your PCP. If you do not have a PCP, we welcome you to make an appointment with a provider at any of our Primary Care locations.

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