For years, Medicare has offered annual wellness exams for senior patients, and such wellness checks that go beyond an annual physical are key to keeping people healthy and out of the hospital, according to local medical officials.

“At first, patients were a little surprised because a wellness exam is different from an annual physical,” said Dr. William Merrell, a YRMC Physician Care internal medicine practitioner. “Now people appreciate the annual wellness exam. It gives them the opportunity to speak with their physician about important health issues not covered during an annual physical.”

If you’ve had original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan for longer than 12 months, you’re eligible for a yearly wellness visit. Medicare pays 100 percent of the exam that is not intended to replace an annual physical but it offers a chance for patient and doctor to create an updated prevention plan based on the patient’s health and risk factors. The doctor can update a schedule of screenings that should be done in the next five to 10 years that will help reduce risk of disease and disability: such things as a colonoscopy, mammograms, bone density tests, prostate cancer screenings and vision and hearing tests.

Prevention plans can also include screenings for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and necessary vaccinations, including those for pneumonia or shingles.

“What makes it a wellness exam is that we get into some preventive medicine issues,” said James Arthur, MD, Verde Valley Medical Clinic − Primary Care in Cottonwood. “We take time to focus on topics like nutrition and home safety risks. By identifying any risks or issues in their early stages, we can help the patient have a healthier, more meaningful life.”

“With the wellness exam, we can learn more about our patients and involve them in ways to prevent illness and improve health,” Merrell added. “It’s a great opportunity to have a conversation with your doctor about your health.”

This article first appeared in Yavapai Regional Medical Center HealthConnect 2.0.