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We have all been reminded how important it is to see your doctor every year for your annual physical exam. The truth is, it’s even more important as you grow older.

While a physical exam is probably not at the top of anyone’s list of favorite ways to spend an hour, it is truly a vital part of your preventive medical plan. Seeing your primary care provider (PCP) for regular exams can lead to the early diagnosis and treatment of emerging health conditions you may be unaware of.

In addition, an equally important appointment for those with Medicare is your Annual Wellness Visit. If that strikes you as something that sounds a lot like an annual physical exam, you are not alone. There is a good deal of confusion concerning the two, so let’s look at the differences.

Simply put, an annual physical exam is a hands-on exam to determine if you have any observable problems — ones that your doctor can see, hear or feel.

Those new to Medicare receive a special physical exam called an Initial Preventive Physical Exam. It is more commonly called a Welcome to Medicare Visit, and this frequently used alternative moniker may be the cause of some of the confusion.

Your Initial Preventive Physical Exam is a one-time exam that is a covered benefit within your first 12 months of enrollment in Medicare Part B (medical) insurance. During this exam, your doctor will check your vitals, ensure you are up to date on your preventive screenings and immunizations, and order any tests based on your family medical history.

After you’ve had your Initial Preventive Physical Exam and have been on Medicare Part B for longer than 12 months, you are then eligible for Medicare’s Annual Wellness Visit.

The Annual Wellness Visit is not an exam. The key word here is visit. It’s an extended conversation with your doctor to review the “big picture” to help ensure your health care needs are met. It’s taking the time to talk about the things you don’t have time to discuss within the confines of a traditional physical exam.

The Annual Wellness Visit is also an opportunity to create and update your personalized prevention plan. It’s you and your doctor working together, as a team. The visit starts with a health risk assessment and can also include:

A review of your family medical history.

Developing or updating a list of current providers and prescriptions.

Heart, weight, blood pressure and other routine measurements.

Detection of any cognitive impairment.

Personalized health advice.

A list of risk factors and treatment options.

A screening schedule (like a checklist) for appropriate preventive services.

Advance care planning.

You pay nothing for an Annual Wellness Visit if your doctor or other qualified health care provider accepts assignment from Medicare, or if they are a network provider with your Medicare Advantage Plan.

Your Annual Wellness Visit is an important benefit that keeps you and your doctor on the same page with your health. If you haven’t talked to your doctor about an Annual Wellness Visit, call and ask about it today. It’s a conversation worth having. ☸

(This article was provided by Samaritan Health.)

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