photo by: Ashley Hocking
Each year, people with Medicare have an opportunity to take part in an annual wellness visit. Though the words “wellness visit” may sound daunting, this visit is not a physical exam.
April Sprague, outpatient care manager for LMH Health, said the visit provides a yearly opportunity for patients with a Medicare plan to sit down and talk about their health.
“Each patient is asked to complete a health risk assessment, which allows them to tell us how they feel about their health,” Sprague said. “I describe this visit as a conversation. The entire purpose is to identify health risks and we do that by completing screenings and collecting a medical history about the patient and their family.”
The focus of the visit is on prevention. During the visit, patients will learn about health screenings recommended for them — such as colon, breast or prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes — and talk about any immunizations they may be due for. Referrals can be made for any services or resources the patient needs, including help with completing advance directives. At the end of each visit, the patient receives a personalized prevention plan created for them based on their health risks and needs.
“Research shows that early identification of health problems leads to better health outcomes,” Sprague said. “Above all, the end goal is to identify health risks and educate patients about how to stay healthy longer.”
The patient’s participation with any recommended screenings is completely up to them. The recommendations provided are evidence based, according to guidelines established by the United States Preventive Services Task Force and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
“Each patient gets a written handout with a checklist of preventive services and screenings,” Sprague said. “This way they walk out with a plan in place.”
Sprague said that though some people come in with reservations, they receive a lot of positive feedback. Hank Booth, the show host for 1320 KLWN’s According to the Record, is one of them.
“I went in and, you know, sometimes you don’t want to talk about your health history with a complete stranger,” Booth said. “But I saw April and after she asked questions and we got talking, it was so comforting. I could genuinely tell that the things we were talking about were to help me be as healthy as I can be as I get older.”
Booth said that Sprague was able to connect him with resources and get appointments set up for services he chose.
“Going to my annual wellness visit prompted me to go get screened to make sure down the line no health problems arise that I don’t know about,” Booth said. “They gave me the tools I need to be the healthiest I can be and, though I didn’t feel pressured, I felt perfectly willing to take their advice.”
After a broken neck injury earlier in his health journey, Booth began rehab on his neck. However, after having a tough experience, he decided he could not do it any longer. After talking with Sprague during his wellness visit, it encouraged him to go back and begin working to gain mobility again.
“Talking with April reminded me of the motto I once lived by but seemed to have forgotten,” Booth said. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I didn’t feel pressure to decide to work on my neck again, but I was inspired because I realized it doesn’t matter what age we are. We can begin trying to improve our health any step of the way.”
Booth said that he tells anyone who has reservations about going, whether it’s for fear of criticism or hearing what they’ve heard thousands of times before, that the experience isn’t like that at all.
“I wish I could tell everyone to take advantage of their wellness visit,” Booth said. “I never felt criticized for stopping my rehab, I never felt judged, and no one threw me under the bus. What’s wrong with finding out if there is something better you can do to help your health? When I left the office, I felt relief. I felt a weight lifted knowing I had the tools I needed to make sure I stay healthy for years to come.”
— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s health section.