Wellness visits: Regular checkups for everyone

Routine preventive care lets you focus more on staying well and less on being sick

Wellness visits: Regular checkups for everyone

A Sanford Health wellness visit represents a partnership between you and your primary care provider that aspires to help you reach and maintain your best health.

It can be an effective tool in pursuit of a longer life. A wellness visit can play a role in keeping minor issues minor. It can also help you maintain a dialogue with your provider that addresses your own medical history, your family’s medical history and the role you can play in improving or maintaining your health.

Andrew Burgard, M.D., practices family medicine at Sanford West Fargo Clinic and treats acute and chronic conditions. He provides preventive health care for newborns to older adults.

We recently talked with Dr. Burgard about what you can expect with a wellness visit.

What is a wellness visit?

A wellness visit is a review of a patient’s health history, their family medical history and addresses any chronic conditions a patient is being treated for. We use that to create an individualized care plan for screenings and preventive interventions like vaccinations and cancer screenings that are recommended for them based on their age or their family history.

It’s important we have those conversations to make sure it is all considered because it can vary from person to person.

Is it the same as a preventive visit?

I know the lingo sometimes gets a little confusing for people, but a wellness visit and a preventive visit are considered to be the same. A wellness visit or preventive visit includes a physical exam that checks vital signs and blood pressure, access to preventive services including cancer screenings and immunizations and discussions about your health and lifestyle.

What type of questions and topics typically come up between doctor and patient during a wellness visit?

Discuss changes in your health history or family history. You will have a conversation with your provider about anything that has been updated over the last year. Knowing this information is key for creating a personalized preventive health care plan.

Review labs, preventive screenings and vaccinations that are due. Your provider will discuss and help coordinate next steps for the various bloodwork, screenings and vaccinations that you are due for. These recommendations vary by age and health history but may include:

  • Cholesterol tests
  • Cancer screenings including breast cancer (mammograms) and colorectal cancer
  • Immunizations like hepatitis, MMR and other vaccines that help prevent disease

Discuss your lifestyle and general health. Topics may include nutrition and exercise, quitting alcohol or tobacco, or mental and behavioral concerns.

Then typically at the end there will be recommendations on a care plan. If there are tests to be ordered, they can be scheduled at that time or at least have a plan to schedule them. We want our patients to have a good playbook in hand when you walk out the door.

The adult wellness visit you describe is just one kind of visit. There are also child wellness visits and Medicare wellness visits. How do they vary from what you’ve just described?

A well-child visit is very much going to focus on the development of the child and whether they’re meeting certain milestones. We want to determine if there are any delays that might need further attention or interventions. We will assess growth and make sure the child is growing appropriately.

Vaccines are often a very important part of the well-child visit and are often structured around the recommended vaccination schedule.

For Medicare wellness visits, there is a set guideline on the topics to be assessed and it’s a little different than it is for people who are used to a regular adult physical. A Medicare wellness visit asks to have the provider review advance care planning. If you haven’t set up an advance directive or care plan, we’ll ask you to consider that. If you need help with setting up an advance care plan, we can connect you to resources. There are also hearing and vision assessments and screenings that are part of a Medicare wellness visit that would not be part of a routine preventive visit.

Because of those requirements, there are only certain things that can be addressed. If it goes beyond those regulations, then that adds to the visit, and it might not be included within the insurance coverage of a Medicare visit.

How often should you have a wellness visit performed?

For most people, we recommend an annual wellness visit. For younger, healthier people who maybe aren’t on any medications, every two to three years might be more appropriate. Generally speaking, an annual visit is a good rule of thumb.

Why is an annual wellness visit important?

One of the biggest reasons is that the recommendations are ever-changing. Colon cancer screening guidelines, for instance, have changed in recent years. We’ve seen this year, some newer vaccines are available. So by coming in for regular wellness visits, you can stay up to date with those changes and current guidelines which can catch potential health problems early or prevent them all together.

What should you bring to a wellness visit?

It’s important to bring an understanding of your family history because that can impact the recommendations that we end up making for screening for some conditions. If you have concerns that have come up since your last visit, it could be helpful to write them down and bring them with you. Sometimes it’s helpful to bring a family member, too, to help listen to recommendations and be there when we’re discussing a care plan.

What is the cost of a wellness visit? Is it covered by insurance?

Generally speaking, the preventive elements – the cancer screenings, the vaccinations and screening labs – will often be included in the cost of a wellness visit. But when questions about a new health concern or management of chronic conditions comes up, then that may incur an additional charge within that visit.

Check with your insurance to find out what is covered. Occasionally people are surprised and frustrated by surcharges that can come out of a wellness visit so it’s best to know what your insurance plan covers.

Is it appropriate to bring up new health concerns during a wellness visit?

A wellness visit is a reasonable time to bring up new health concerns. It’s important to understand that those may fall outside the context of a wellness visit and could incur an additional charge. It is also important to know you don’t have to wait for your next wellness visit to discuss new problems with your provider. If it’s something that concerns you, you can certainly schedule a visit prior to your wellness visit to go over these new concerns.

If you’re interested in a wellness visit, what should you do?

You can schedule a visit either on My Sanford Chart by selecting a wellness visit or by calling your local clinic to schedule an appointment.

Learn more

Posted In Family Medicine, Fargo, Health Plan, Healthy Living, Internal Medicine, Senior Services