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What to Expect at Your Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

Senior woman is having doctor's visit at her home.

Your Medicare plan covers an Annual Wellness Visit (AWV). This yearly appointment with your primary care physician focuses on preventing illness and disease, while assessing your health risks.

“The wellness visit ensures that all your needs are addressed, whether it’s screening for preventive tests or making sure you are vaccinated correctly,” says James Solava, DO, primary care physician with Allegheny Health Network. “Physicians devote extra time to these wellness visits. It’s your chance to discuss any issues, plan for prevention, and identify risks.”

What to expect during your Medicare wellness exam

Your Medicare AWV is mostly a simple conversation with your doctor. Together, you’ll review your current health and talk about a personalized prevention plan. “The wellness exam isn’t a full physical exam,” Dr. Solava says. “The purpose of the visit is to prevent conditions we typically look for in the over-65 population.”

Your physician will conduct routine measurements, such as height, weight, and blood pressure. If necessary, your doctor will address acute complaints, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, and perform additional physical assessments. Just know that if your physician adds a service or attends to an acute issue, you may be charged for that extra medical care.

However, if your doctor decides it’s in your best interest, the visit may include:

Referral for disease screenings

Your physician will review the recommended disease screenings for your age, and refer you to the appropriate specialists for testing. “Screenings specific to this age group detect conditions early and prevent problems from happening,” Dr. Solava says. Men and women age 65 and older may undergo screenings for:

·       Colon cancer (colonoscopy)

·       Breast cancer (mammogram)

·       Prostate cancer (digital rectal exam or PSA blood test)

·       Osteoporosis (bone density scan)

Medication review

Dr. Solava suggests that you bring all your prescription medication and supplement bottles to your well visit. That way your physician can thoroughly review the medication you take on a regular basis. The medication evaluation may include:

·       Checking expiration dates

·       Reviewing all medications for possible drug interactions

·       Setting up medication refills

·       Updating the list of medications in your medical records

Vaccine check

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends specific vaccines for people 65 and older. During your Medicare AWV, your physician reviews the vaccines you’ve received and may administer new vaccines. Keep in mind that any added service may result in additional costs.

Preventative health assessments

During the visit, your physician will evaluate you for health issues that commonly afflict older adults. “Assessing and addressing these issues helps decrease your risk and improve your quality of life,” Dr. Solava says. “Through these screenings, we can get you the services you need, such as counseling, physical therapy, or occupational therapy.” Your physician may screen you for:

·       Dementia

·       Depression

·       Fall risk

·       Memory loss

·       Mobility issues

·       Tobacco and alcohol use

·       Urinary incontinence

·       Vision issues

Discussion about advance care planning

Your physician may talk to you about advance care planning, in case you ever need health care and are unable to speak for yourself. During your AWV, your doctor answers your questions and lays out the next steps to take. “Being prepared takes burden off of you and your family if something were to happen,” Dr. Solava says. If you already have a documented plan in place, bring it to your AWV so your physician get it scanned into your medical record.

Questions to determine the need for social services

During the AWV, your physician may ask questions to determine how social services might benefit your health. For people who are struggling with issues related to food, housing, or finances, this assessment may provide resources that can address your needs. “As a medical community, we are trying to address these issues and offer our help,” Dr. Solava says. “The goal is to keep you healthy, and these issues can directly affect your health.”

How to prepare for your Medicare wellness visit

According to Dr. Solava, it’s important to bring your actual prescription medication bottles to the visit. “It’s really the safest thing to do,” he says. “A written medication list might be outdated or incomplete. The bottles have all the information we need.” If you are new to this primary care provider, Dr. Solava suggests you also bring:

·       Family history

·       Immunization history

·       Personal history

·       Surgical history

Highmark understands Medicare coverage

To enroll in Medicare or learn more about how Medicare keeps you healthy, schedule a personal consultation with a Highmark insurance agent or 866-320-8359 (TTY/TDD users may call 711). Medicare product experts are available by phone from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., seven days a week.