As a child, you probably got an annual check-up like clockwork. And you probably made sure your own children saw the pediatrician at least once a year for a basic physical. Yet for many adults, the yearly physical exam ritual eventually evaporates. However, doctors note that regular check-ups are an important part of good preventive care at every age.
If you’ve been enrolled in Medicare Part B for at least a year and have not had a ‘Welcome to Medicare’ doctor’s visit during that period, it’s time to get back to the doctor for an annual wellness visit. The yearly check-up is free-of-charge for beneficiaries and includes a health risk assessment that forms the basis for a proactive preventive care plan. However, many seniors are failing to take advantage of this new benefit, which was instituted as part of the Affordable Care Act.
“Not many people seem to be aware of this type of visit,” says Dr. Kanwal Kahn, a physician specializing in internal medicine with Diagnostic Internists of Chesterfield at St. Luke's Hospital. In addition to reviewing general health and assessing health risks, patients receive preventive vaccines, schedule screening tests and undergo cognitive assessments, she says.
The senior wellness visit covered by Medicare lays out the road map for continued preventive care and allows physicians and patients to identify and focus on particular health concerns, yet it is not as comprehensive as a complete physical exam. For example, blood tests are not part of the annual wellness visit, says Dr. Amin Valliani, a physician specializing in internal medicine with Premier Medical Specialists and at Des Peres Hospital. If extra tests or procedures are called for, they may require a co-pay.
Despite the restrictions, Valliani believes that senior citizens should take advantage of the annual wellness visit benefit “especially for screening purposes.” Tests that may diagnose prostate cancer, aortic aneurysms or colon cancer are among the common screenings recommended for older patients based on a personal health profile and family history.
When seeing a doctor for a physical or annual wellness visit, it’s important to bring some basic information along. Kahn recommends at minimum a list of all current prescription and over-the-counter medications, and says that patients should be prepared to request vaccines, such as the flu or pneumonia vaccines, and to discuss specific concerns or symptoms. “They should also be aware of information regarding recent visits with any other physician and procedures, exams or testing done by them,” she adds.
Valliani suggests that patients bring copies of their medical records from other physicians and have information prepared that outlines family history of any chronic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Don’t give up your annual check-ups as you age. “Annual wellness visits are very important for seniors to help keep them independent and in good health,” Kahn says.