An annual wellness visit (AWV) is a once-a-year appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) that allows your doctor to create a plan aimed at improving your health and preventing future illnesses.
Sometimes called yearly wellness exam, yearly wellness visit, annual pap or annual preventive visit, it is an opportunity for your doctor to answer any health questions you may have. Although considered similar, annual wellness exams and visits are different from annual physical exams.
Unlike a typical doctor’s appointment to treat illness or injury, an annual wellness exam focuses on prevention. This exam is not a physical, it’s a screening process to check your current health status and ensure you receive any medical services you may need.
Are Annual Wellness Visits Covered by Medical Insurance?
Insurance coverage for annual wellness visits varies by provider. An annual wellness visit is standard with Medicare Part B, which includes a yearly Health Risk Assessment and comprehensive screening. Contact your insurance company or healthcare provider for more information on annual exam coverage if these five reasons for getting a wellness exam resonate with you.
What Happens During Annual Wellness Visit and Exam?
During your annual wellness visits and exams, the medical provider will most likely do the following:
- Take measurements of your vital statistics such as your height, weight, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI)
- Review your individual or family medical history
- Screening for potential illnesses such as depression or cognitive impairment issues
- Discussion of personal health needs such as need to lose weight, smoking cessation, increase in physical activity, nutritional issues, etc.
- Discussion of referrals to preventive counseling services that may help prevent future health and wellness problems
- Discussion of preventive healthcare services you may need in the future
- Review of functional safety risks such as the risk of falling at home or risk of injuries during physical activities
Are Annual Wellness Visits Necessary?
Yes, annual wellness visits and exams are necessary for men and women. There are numerous health benefits to getting annual wellness checkups even if you feel healthy today. Below are five of them.
1. Monitor Your Basic Health Statistics
A yearly checkup helps catch important changes in your basic health readings. Has your blood pressure increased since last year? Are you gaining or losing weight?
These readings can indicate whether you’re on the right track with your health regimen. If the exam reveals any significant changes or abnormal readings, you can schedule a follow-up appointment with your primary care provider for diagnostic care.
2. Identify Risk Factors and Recommend Lifestyle Changes
Knowing your risk factors for certain health conditions can help you take steps to prevent them. During a wellness exam, your physician asks a series of questions about your medical history, family history, lifestyle, mood, and physical abilities. Your answers may indicate an increased risk for a serious health condition, such as coronary artery disease, or a greater potential for injury from falls.
This information helps your doctor provide the best advice for your health. In the example of coronary artery disease, you could lower your risk through exercise, weight loss, and a low-sodium, plant-based diet. The annual wellness exam is an opportunity to learn which lifestyle changes to adopt for your own specific risk factors.
3. Obtain Referrals
Your physician can connect you with other professionals to assist you with wellness and lifestyle changes. If the screening reveals a problem with blood sugar management, for instance, your doctor can refer you to a nutritionist. If you need help to quit smoking, this wellness visit exam is an opportunity to enroll in a tobacco cessation program.
Your physician can help you obtain many types of services in the community, including mental health treatment, weight loss assistance, and home healthcare.
Referrals for services at outpatient agencies also help you maintain more independence with age, as these service providers can assist you with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as grocery shopping, bathing, and house cleaning.
4. Gender-Specific Health Screenings
Men and women require different screenings and health services throughout their lifetimes. With an annual wellness visit, both genders receive guidance about individual risk factors and the services they need to maintain good health.
A well-woman exam may include screenings for breast cancer, bone density, depression, reproductive concerns, weight-related health conditions, and sexually transmitted infections.
An annual well-woman visit will keep you on a recommended screening schedule for your age group and current health status. For example, the American Cancer Society recommends a Pap test every 3 to 5 years for the early detection of cervical cancer, while the American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends annual breast exams for women 40 and older.
Wellness exams for men may include screenings for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, hernias, and sexually transmitted infections. These screenings depend on age, lifestyle, risk factors, and personal choice.
For example, prostate cancer screenings are recommended for men 55 to 69 years old who have risk factors for prostate cancer, such as a family history of the disease. The annual wellness exam is especially important for men, as men are less likely than women to seek medical care as needed.
5. Early Detection
Early detection may save your life. Regular screening for certain cancers can detect the disease before symptoms begin, and early intervention reduces mortality. The physician not only screens you for your cancer risk, but also assesses you for any cognitive or mental decline.
A cognitive assessment highlights warning signs of dementia or other conditions that affect memory. With early detection of a developing health problem, you are better equipped to seek timely treatment and a natural support system.
Your health concerns may change from year to year, especially as you age. With an annual wellness exam, you and your doctor can stay up-to-date on your health status and address any problems as they arise. Because insurance coverage may vary for wellness exams, be sure to consult your provider about the screenings and benefits available to you.