Now that the key word is “free,” there is no excuse to avoid seeing the doctor. This goes for healthy people more than anyone.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and most medical insurance companies are mandated to cover free annual wellness visits.
What exactly is an annual wellness visit? In addition to offering basics such as height, weight, blood pressure and body mass measurements, the visits include an evaluation of family medical history, cognitive impairment detection and personal health assessment.
‘Focusing on wellness’
At Dr. Dennis Lipton’s clinic, the visits are specialized in that the facility has a full-time internal medicine provider at the helm who has been providing annual wellness visits long before they were free.
As much as many people dread going to the doctor and some avoid it until they are virtually on their deathbeds, wellness visits provide a welcome change from the routine problem-that-needs-to-be-fixed type of appointment to preventive medicine.
“Patients like them because it gives us time to focus on health promotion and wellness instead of just dealing with medical problems. There isn’t really time for this during other medical visits when you’re seeing a doctor to manage your blood pressure or a sore throat,” Lipton said. “People who are healthy and don’t typically go to doctors are sometimes the ones that benefit the most.”
It is standard practice for many of us that unless we are sick, we generally don’t go to the doctor. This can be problematic because such a number of serious health issues have no symptoms and only begin causing problems after individuals have had them for a dangerously long time. The first example: heart disease.
“Heart disease is so common in the U.S. it’s the ‘normal’ way to die,” Lipton said. “It has many well-documented risk factors, and it surprises some people to learn that they are high risk. For the motivated patient there are many things that can be done to mitigate this risk.”
Goal: ‘To make people aware’
Many functional, active individuals are also oblivious to the fact that in spite of their apparent health and lack of symptoms, their poor diets are quietly taking a toll. An assessment of patients’ regular habits and diet is a regular part of Lipton’s work.
“For example, they discover that their weight is higher than they think and that they are classified as ‘obese,’” he said. “High blood pressure and cholesterol are also really common, but they have no symptoms, so we uncover these a lot as well. People get so busy taking care of their families and pursuing their careers that they don’t think about their health until something goes wrong. My goal with the wellness visit is to make people aware of a potential health crisis before it happens and give them concrete steps to improve their chances of living a longer, disease-free life.”
EVERYONE CAN LEARN SOMETHING
This isn’t to say that every presumably healthy person is a ticking time bomb, but even the healthiest individuals can learn something from an annual wellness visit — especially with an internal medicine doctor, who, rather than focusing on obstetrics, pediatrics or surgery, specializes in achieving optimal health for adults of all ages.
“I apply the same evidence-based approach to achieving wellness and optimal health that I do in the medical management of complex illness,” Lipton said. “I have been reading books about fitness, health and wellness since I was a teenager. When patients want to make improvements to their own health or have questions, I know how to work with them and recommend the resources and support the need. My hope is that these visits will inspire people to make healthier choices on a daily basis. Also, when you come in for a wellness check, you become part of a medical practice. You have somewhere to go for your non-emergency health questions or illnesses.”
Shauna Farnell is freelance writer contracted by the Vail Valley Medical Center to write this story. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.