If I’m feeling well, why do I need a wellness exam? I get an annual physical so why do I need a yearly wellness exam, too? These are questions physicians hear less frequently now that the Medicare Annual Wellness Exam has been around a few years.

“At first, patients were a little surprised because a wellness exam is different from an annual physical,” said William Merrell, MD, YRMC PhysicianCare Internal Medicine in Prescott and a member of North Central Arizona Accountable Care (NCAAC). “Now people appreciate the annual wellness exam. It gives them the opportunity to speak with their physician about important health issues not covered during an annual physical.”

If you’ve had original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan for longer than 12 months, you’re eligible for a yearly wellness visit. Medicare pays 100 percent of the annual wellness visit with no out-of-pocket costs as long as you receive the annual wellness exam from a physician who accepts Medicare. While the wellness exam doesn’t replace an annual physical, it allows you and your physician to:

Create or update a personalized prevention plan based on your current health and risk factors:

  • Develop or update a schedule for screenings you’ll need over the next five to 10 years
  • Reduce your risk of disease and disability
  • Providers who are part of the NCAAC network strongly support these wellness exams. They understand the positive impact that preventive measures can have on health and well being.

“What makes it a wellness exam is that we get into some preventive medicine issues,” said James Arthur, MD, Verde Valley Medical Clinic − Primary Care in Cottonwood and a member of NCAAC. “We take time to focus on topics like nutrition and home safety risks. By identifying any risks or issues in their early stages, we can help the patient have a healthier, more meaningful life.”

During a wellness exam, doctors and patients discuss a wide range of issues that may impact future health. Based on the information gathered, your doctor develops a personalized preventive health plan that includes a list of risk factors and treatment options as well as a schedule of recommended screenings. Depending on your gender and age, the recommended screenings could include:

  • Colonoscopy
  • Vision and hearing test
  • Mammography
  • Bone density test
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test

The prevention plan also may include recommended screenings for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and vaccinations.

“With the wellness exam, we can learn more about our patients and involve them in ways to prevent illness and improve health,” said Dr. Merrell. “It’s a great opportunity to have a conversation with your doctor about your health.”

Related: Living Healthy and Well, with Heart Disease