Updated: Aug 13, 2019
It’s Time for Your Check Up!
I was on my very first clinical rotation on the General/Trauma surgery service as a third year medical student when I was given some very wise advice by the surgery Chief Resident: “If you don’t take a temperature, you can’t find a fever.” This is a quote from the novel “House of God” by Samuel Shem that chronicles a clueless medical intern being schooled by a more senior resident physician. I find myself repeating this quote often to our nurses and MAs and even myself. When I think of Annual Wellness Visits, I think of it as a chance for us to “check your temperature.” Obviously, there is much more that goes in to a wellness visit but the general premise is for doctors and patients to set aside a special visit to address issues we may not ordinarily get around to if we are always seeing you for a specific problem or chronic medical problems. Another analogy comes to mind: if you only take your car in for servicing when it starts making a funny noise instead of for the routine scheduled oil changes you may end up buying a new engine which could have been prevented by routine maintenance. Or to put it another way—"an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The importance of an annual wellness visit with your primary care physician cannot be overstated. Many insurance plans offer an annual wellness visit at no extra charge to you; it is a benefit that you are likely already paying for. The definition and specifics of what is covered during a “wellness” visit does vary widely across private insurance plans and Medicare and Medicaid, however the central goal is the same: keep the patients as healthy as possible. For many patients with complex medical conditions, we spend an inordinate amount of time making sure their chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension are as well managed and tightly controlled as possible. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of time and unfortunately we can overlook important routine screening and prevention opportunities when we are dealing with a complex patient. There is another type of patient who may also get overlooked when it comes to routine screening, this is the healthy patient with zero chronic conditions. If we only see you once every couple of years when you happen to come down with the flu or have a severe case of back ache, then again we are missing an opportunity to keep you healthy long term, and we would never catch your “fever” if we don’t get the opportunity to check your “temperature.”
Insurance can be a pain, I know believe me. But one thing they have gotten right is encouraging both patients and physicians to dedicate a visit to “wellness”. During a wellness visit, we can update your history and your chart from the past year. Maybe you’ve had your appendix removed or started a new medication from a specialist. The next important thing is to make sure that you are up to date with all the age-appropriate screening recommendations such as cervical cancer screening, breast cancer and colorectal cancer screening. The screening guidelines are confusing and constantly changing. Not every screening test available is appropriate for every patient. This visit is an opportunity for you to discuss the risks and the benefits of recommended screening tests and allows our staff the time to make sure we can conveniently schedule you for the appropriate test. The point of the wellness visit is to allow you to have these conversations with the physician and to plan for the next year about how we as physicians can keep you, our patients, the most “well” we can. Lastly, keeping our adult patients up to date on immunizations is another important component of the wellness visit. Pneumonia is the fourth leading cause of death in elderly patients and we now have two very effective vaccines for the most common bugs causing pneumonia.
At Crowley Primary Care we are placing an emphasis on wellness visits this year to keep you healthier! We know it can seem like another “box” to check off your endless list of things to do, so we have created a little incentive program to encourage you to put yourself first for once! When you come in for your wellness visit this year, your name will be entered in our monthly drawing for a gift card! Don’t miss your opportunity to score some extra swag on us! Call our office today to schedule an appointment for your wellness visit!
-Claire Ronkartz, M.D.