If you are on Medicare, or new to Medicare, you need to know about the comprehensive wellness exams that are offered to you at no cost. These lengthy exams are available to you once a year and offer an extended visit with your doctor that provides a full picture of your health, including screening tests for diabetes, heart disease, cognitive changes, depression, fall risk and a medication check. Think of it as a chance to ask your doctor everything and anything you ever wanted to about your health.
“The Medicare wellness exam gives you a really good idea of where you are at health wise, and also a perspective on those things you tend to put on the back burner. It’s nice to get the extra testing you wouldn’t normally do, because it’s human nature to just go to the doctor when we are sick,” said Terri Beckett, Care Coordinator at the Prowers Medical Center Clinic.
The Clinic has been offering extended wellness exams for over a year. They are part of a movement with Medicare to become more preventive and proactive—helping you address potential issues before they set in.
Expect to spend a good hour or so at the Clinic when you come for a wellness exam, as the nurses will do a general health check and then conduct a series of screenings to determine your risk for falls, depression, cognitive impairment, diabetes and heart disease.
“Your doctor or provider then reviews your results and sits down with you to make a plan of care to address any concerns,” said Dawn Watts, Clinic Practice Manager.
If you need extra help in a certain area, you may be referred on for specialized care. For example, Jessica Hall, MS, CCC-SLP, a speech and language specialist with Prowers Medical Center, receives referrals from Medicare wellness exams for those who show cognitive changes or impairments. She says that nearly 70% of her referred patients are diabetic, as there is a strong link between diabetes and dementia.
“I really appreciate the Medicare wellness exams because I am getting more referrals and we are catching more cognitive issues early on. A lot of times dementia and memory loss are reversible, for example, when they are caused by stress, hearing loss, vision problems or certain infections like a urinary tract infection,” Hall said.
Her job is to dig and find out why people are having signs and symptoms of dementia. She also requests more testing when needed from a patient’s physician to determine the exact cause. Then, she creates a cognitive exercise plan for patients to complete at home to improve memory.
“I have had some patients test in the severe range, and after we have gone through a treatment program for 12 weeks, 1 to 2 days a week, I see them reduce to the mild range. People shouldn’t be afraid to get tested. I have people in their 50s who say it’s hard to find words or make conversation, and a lot of times it’s caused by stress,” she added.
Besides getting a thorough health check, the wellness exams are a good time to make sure other health related questions are in order, like medications and advanced directives. Providers encourage you to bring your bottles of medications with you, along with any tests or diagnoses you’ve received from specialists, and advanced directives if you have them. It gives them a chance to review your medications to make sure there are no duplicates, or drug interactions.
If you are new to Medicare, call and set up your Welcome to Medicare wellness exam. If you’ve been on it for years, then you may know that you can receive a wellness exam each year. To schedule an exam, call 719-336-6767. The exam is covered at 100%, and you’ll leave feeling empowered that you are actively taking care of your own health—and addressing concerns before they become serious illnesses down the road.