Medicare annual wellness visits important for patients

Dr. Patrick Evans, a family practice doctor at the UND Center for Family Medicine, urges patients to schedule a Medicare annual wellness visit.

The visit, funded by Medicare, enables patients to establish a relationship with a primary care doctor and to discuss health concerns at a time when they are relaxed and are not sick or experiencing another health issue that needs immediate attention.

“We call it an exam, but it’s actually more of an interview,” said Evans.

The patient will be asked to fill out paperwork with numerous questions and also be screened for common health concerns. A nurse will ask the patient about their diet, risk of falls, use of alcohol or tobacco, depression or need for a walker. Evans said the visit includes a timed “up and go test” to determine how long it takes for a patient to rise from a chair, walk across the room, walk back across the room and sit back down. A patient who takes as long as 30 seconds to get up from the chair might need more assistance. There is a also a screening for memory problems. A patient will be asked to draw a clock and to remember three words. Those who are unable to perform those tasks might require more extensive screening for issues.

A doctor will then speak with the patient about health care management.

“I call it a five year plan for your life,” said Evans.

The doctor will discuss preventative care, such as what vaccines the patient might need, and recommended health screenings such as the PAP smear, mammogram, colorectal cancer screening, glaucoma screening, diabetes self management and screening for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, and cardiovascular screening blood tests.

The doctor will also discuss the patient’s wishes regarding advance directives for care in the event of a serious or life threatening illness. The doctor might also hand out informational brochures.

Evans said the visits are usually fairly short, up to 45 minutes long, and are paid for by Medicare. If labwork is ordered, the patient might be asked to pay a co-pay, but most of that work is likely to be covered by Medicare as well.

Evans will be speaking about the importance of the annual wellness visits during the 1st Annual Minot Daily News Senior Expo on Sept. 6 at Minot’s Sleep Inn & Suites.