The impact of annual wellness checks

Primary care physicians have long emphasized the need for preventive health. Annual wellness checks, or physicals, have been an intrinsic part of the preventive plan for their patients. Most private insurers cover the cost of an annual exam and even Medicare has recently begun paying in full for an annual wellness check for recipients. Some experts, though, believe that the annual wellness check is not necessary, particularly among younger patient populations.

Writing in the Harvard Health Blog, Amy Ship, MD, points out that “these annual visits don’t make any difference in health outcomes,” according to a number of large studies. She further explains that an annual wellness check does not necessarily keep a patient from getting sick or even help the patient live longer. However, she also cites the fact that “many doctors and patients perceive the annual visit as a critical opportunity to cement the doctor-patient relationship and a way to ensure that people receive appropriate screenings and preventive care.”

That patient-physician relationship can be crucial in impacting the level of care provided during each visit. When a patient feels that the physician is truly listening and has a vested interest in the patient’s well-being, the patient becomes more engaged as well. Ship’s article proposes a separate visit to establish that relationship, rather than relying on the annual wellness check to make that happen. Follow-up communication is another significant element in developing that patient-physician relationship, in addition to having an impact on the quality of care a patient receives throughout the year.

The Harvard Health article also suggests that primary care physicians “will need to find a more proactive way to monitor their patients’ attention to preventive care” if the annual physical exam is eliminated. An EHR tool, such as Elation’s Clinical First EHR, enables the primary care physician to quickly identify patients who aren’t meeting goals based on custom care management protocols, Meaningful Use objectives, or specific document tags, and easily schedule a follow-up appointment to address any potential gaps in care.