Now’s the time to think about an annual wellness visit

A new year is a great opportunity to schedule an annual wellness visit — a chance to chat about any health care needs that you might normally not have an opportunity to discuss.

An annual wellness visit is available each year to those who have Medicare. Malwina Zastawna, population health manager for LMH Health, said annual wellness visits are a good chance to prevent medical problems before they arise.

“The visit provides the potential to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to your well-being,” she said. “No one thinks, ‘Oh, I feel great today; I am going to call my doctor.'”

Zastawna said LMH makes a point to be proactive at the annual visit and share the benefits that are available to patients. She said most patients find the visits helpful and are often excited to come back after their first one.

Because of COVID-19, annual wellness visits can be conducted via telehealth. Despite the pandemic, Zastawna said that LMH still averages about 400 visits per month.

“It is important to note that when you come in for an annual wellness visit, you will be seen by a population health nurse who works very closely with your doctor,” she said. “We are able to sit down and chat about your overall health. This is a time where we can discuss your risk factors and offer personal health advice so you can stay healthy or delay progression of disease.”

Zastawna said the visit focuses more on preventative health care than on diagnosing or treating any existing illness. Annual wellness visits are about health care and not sick care, she said.

Dr. Matthew Bihlmaier, a physician at Reed Internal Medicine, said these visits also allow for a time and a space to talk about the things that can get overlooked in other types of medical visits. He said that rather than focusing on one issue at a specific visit, the provider and patients can focus on goals of any type.

“These visits can be used as supplemental visits, or sometimes this may be the only time each year that we get to see the patient,” Bihlmaier said. “I enjoy getting to sit down with these patients and discuss what last year’s goals were and what this year’s goals are and see what they want for their health.”

These goals don’t have to be monumental, said Bihlmaier, who emphasized that “many little goals turn into big goals.”

“If we can make small changes over time, they lead up to big changes over the long haul,” he said.

Sometimes, Bihlmaier said, these visits are important not just for a patient’s physical health, but for their mental health as well.

“I have had patients who come to these visits and just enjoy having someone to talk with,” Bihlmaier said. “When stressful situations are happening around you, whether or not they regard your health, it can be very mentally taxing. These visits can be used to express fears and worries as well, because as much as we focus on physical health, mental health is equally as important no matter your age.”

At the visit, patients can get an overview of their basic state of health — their height, weight and blood pressure. They can also look at chronic problems that have been going on and discuss different solutions.

“When we see these patients each year, it gives the nurses and physicians peace of mind,” Bihlmaier said. “If we don’t see our patients for a while, we can worry. Getting the opportunity to see them each year and check in helps us know they are OK.”

Bihlmaier said Reed Internal Medicine and the hospital as a whole are taking safety measures to protect patients and visitors from COVID-19. However, if you do not feel safe coming in, telehealth is an option.

“We are able to provide you a telehealth appointment on a few different platforms, and these have actually proven to be very helpful and convenient for some patients,” Bihlmaier said. “Not only are we able to reach out to residents in nursing homes easier now with telehealth, but if a patient has a family member who lives in another part of the country, they can connect and attend the appointments with them through telehealth.”

“As an annual wellness visit can aid in your overall health in the long run, focus on your health right here and now as well and continue being vigilant in your COVID safety precautions,” he added. “Continue to wash your hands, wear a mask and be kind.”


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