As we continue to transition to a new normal, it is important to remember to schedule your yearly wellness visits and annual physical exams. Many visits that were prioritized before COVID-19 took backseats as patients avoided doctors’ offices, hospitals, and imaging centers to social distance and isolate themselves at home.

Yearly visits typically don’t just include blood pressure and cholesterol checks. They can include many other screenings, depending on your age and health status, like depression screening, obesity screening, diet counseling, and tobacco and alcohol abuse screening and counseling.

Yearly visits also offer an opportunity for you and your doctor to establish wellness goals for the upcoming year. These goals can include certain preventative screenings and health benchmarks. Plus, yearly visits allow your doctor to compare this year’s results to the previous and catch early trends before they become a larger issue. For example, repeat blood pressure monitoring allows doctors to see slight increases in values. They may advise you to begin lifestyle changes and treatment early on, while they are most effective. When yearly wellness exams are skipped, early disease processes can be missed and often become more dangerous, or even deadly – when caught in more advanced stages.

Capturing preventative screening results and ensuring they are up-to-date is also an important part of annual doctor’s visits. While both men’s and women’s preventative screenings include colon cancer, women are also screened for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and osteoporosis. In addition, men also undergo prostate screening such as digital rectal exams. Completing these screenings at the recommended ages and intervals can help patients and physicians work together to prevent illness or catch disease processes at an early and more treatable stage.

Annual Physical Exam vs Medicare Annual Wellness Exam

Both Medicare and commercial insurance plans include an annual visit. However, it is important to know the differences between a Medicare Annual Wellness Exam and an Annual Physical Exam. As per Medicare, the Medicare Annual Wellness Exam is described as a visit to develop or update a Personalized Prevention Plan (PPP) and perform a Health Risk Assessment (HRA).

Now, What Does An Annual Physical Exam Include?

Most commercial insurance plans include what is known as the “Annual Physical Exam”. This is what most patients know as their “check-up”. While it is in part similar to Medicare’s Annual Wellness Exam, the annual physical is focused more on the actual physical exam, relevant blood work and lab tests, and confirming that vaccination schedules are up-to-date.

What To Expect At The Doctor’s Office

  • Your medical team will check your height, weight, blood pressure, and other routine vital measurements.
  • Your doctor will conduct an in-depth physical exam including but not limited to:
    • Checking your eyes, ears, nose and throat for potential problems
    • Listening to your heart and lungs to detect irregular sounds.
    • Palpating your abdomen to feel for masses or pain and listen for irregular bowel sounds.
    • Test your motor function and reflexes
    • Perform pelvic, breast and rectal exams or refer to appropriate specialists for these exams and confirm they are up to date
  • Your medical team will order relevant blood work and lab tests which can include:
    • CBC to check blood cells
    • Comprehensive Panel which checks glucose, liver and kidney function as well as electrolytes
    • Lipid panel for cholesterol management
    • Thyroid panel
    • Urinalysis

The Medicare Wellness Exam

For those who have Medicare, the annual Medicare wellness exam is different than a regular physical. The Medicare wellness exam is an in-depth conversation with you and your doctor to discuss your overall health history including any new concerns. It is also an opportunity to review your current medication regimen and confirm your immunizations are on schedule. This extended visit allows the doctor to conduct screening exams for memory loss, depression, alcohol and opioid abuse, as well as assessing your ability to perform activities of daily living (such as bathing and dressing), and your level of safety at home.

Taking the time to screen for these issues allows you and your doctor to quickly identify factors that may become issues in the future and to come up with a plan to prevent future health problems.

What To Expect at Your Medicare Wellness Visit

  • Your medical team will check your height, weight, blood pressure, and other routine vitals measurements.
  • Your doctor will give you a health risk assessment. This may include a questionnaire asking about your health status, injury risks, behavioral risks, and urgent health needs.
  • Your doctor will review your functional ability and level of safety, including screening for fall risk and assessing your ability to perform activities of daily living (such as bathing and dressing), and the level of safety at home.
  • Your doctor will learn about your medical, surgical, and family history.
  • Together, you will make a list of your current specialty physicians and reconcile medications. Medications include prescription medications, OTC medications, vitamins and supplements.
  • Together you will create a schedule for keeping appropriate preventative screening testing up to date.
  • Your doctor will screen for cognitive impairment, including diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and refer you to the appropriate specialists if needed.
  • Your doctor will screen for depression, alcohol misuse, and opioid misuse.
  • Your doctor will provide appropriate health advice and referrals if needed including weight loss counseling, exercise counseling, smoking cessation, fall prevention, nutrition, and more.

Both Medicare Wellness Exams and Annual Physical Exams Are Important

Though they are different, both Medicare Wellness Exams and Annual Physical Exams are important for more than just keeping you healthy. Both types of exams are often longer visits – giving you more time to develop and strengthen your relationship with your primary care provider. Ideal Primary Care Physician relationships should be long-lasting and provide you with a gatekeeper to manage all your medical needs for years to come. Make your health and wellness a priority!

Call your TopLine MD Alliance affiliated Primary Care Physicians office and schedule your yearly visit today.

Dr. Alison Dubin is a proud member of the TopLine MD Alliance practicing Family Medicine in Broward County.

The TopLine MD Alliance is an association of independent physicians and medical practice groups who are committed to providing a higher standard of healthcare services. The members of the TopLine MD Alliance have no legal or financial relationship with one another. The TopLine MD Alliance brand has no formal corporate, financial or legal ties to any of the affiliated physicians or practice groups.