Your annual wellness visit: 4 things to know
When you’re feeling fine, you may be tempted to skip an annual wellness visit. But going to a primary care provider when you’re feeling healthy may be the best time to schedule this yearly exam.
An annual wellness visit gives providers and patients a chance to talk about how lifestyle steps such as diet and exercise can help prevent and treat diseases, says Michael Hochman, M.D., M.P.H., a physician in Los Angeles and the host of the Healthy Skeptic, MD podcast.
Since you’ll have the provider’s full attention, make the most of the appointment. Here are four ways to do just that.
1. Prepare for the visit ahead of time
Getting organized before arriving means having more time to discuss overall health with the provider. Here are four things to bring to the appointment, says Dr. Hochman:
- A list of all medications. This includes any prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and vitamins and supplements. After all, almost a quarter of all adults aged 40 to 79 take 5 or more prescription drugs.1 It’s worth going through the list with the provider to see which ones may not be needed anymore, says Dr. Hochman.
- A list of everyone on your care team. Bring the names and contact information of any other health care professionals or specialists. Don’t forget to add caregivers to the list, too. It will help the primary care provider coordinate your overall care.
- Health highlights. It can be helpful to bring a list of any significant health milestones to the visit too.
2. Expect a thorough review of your health2
On arrival to the visit, you’ll fill out a list of questions that the provider uses to better understand your overall health. It helps them identify any health risk factors, such as whether you smoke or have a family history of a certain disease. The answers help the provider create a prevention plan that may help you get healthier.
They will also run some basic tests and ask additional questions. A visit may include:
- Checking height, weight and blood pressure
- Reviewing your medical and family health history, including specialists you’ve seen in the past year
- Talking about necessary preventive screenings, such as a mammogram or a colonoscopy3
- Discussing any medications you may take
- Providing personalized health advice (that may include nutrition counseling, a fitness plan, help cutting back on alcohol, etc.)
- Looking for signs of mental health or cognitive problems. They may check to see if you’re feeling sad or blue or having difficulty sleeping. They may also discuss any challenges you have with memory, or if you’re finding it hard to learn new tasks or manage your finances. If the provider thinks there may be problems, they may schedule another visit for a more thorough review.
3. There will be time to ask questions
Going over your health in the past year only takes up part of the time you spend with the provider. You will have time to talk about your concerns too. That’s also a good opportunity to get to know the health provider a little better.
“We allow a bit more time for an annual wellness visit, so it’s great to engage and get to know your doctor, so that you’ll feel more connected if you develop a health problem later,” explains Dr. Hochman.
However, you should be aware that if you discuss a specific health problem, you may be billed for the annual wellness visit and a specific care visit. “They’ll both be billed to your insurance, and you may be responsible for a copayment, depending on the plan,” explains Dr. Hochman. If you have health issues that are complicated, you may want to schedule a follow-up visit to discuss those.
4. End the visit with a plan2
After talking about overall health goals, the provider will work with you to create a roadmap for the year. Sometimes it’s hard to remember everything you heard during the exam. The good news is that the provider has been taking notes.
To make sure you understand what was discussed during the visit, ask for a copy. The notes may also include when and where to schedule screening tests. If you had any tests during your appointment, ask when to expect results and how they’ll be communicated.
There may be a need to schedule follow-up care, especially if there are health issues such as diabetes, kidney problems or heart disease. If you have a chronic condition, the provider may refer you to a specialist for further treatment.
Annual wellness visits help providers catch problems early, while they’re still treatable. So they’re key to helping you get healthier — this year and in the future. That’s why it makes sense to schedule the annual wellness visit today, even if you feel fine.