CEO Healthcare Column

CEO Mary Ellen Pratt is extremely knowledgeable about the issues facing healthcare today. Visit this page monthly to keep up with her popular healthcare column which is featured in local newspapers. 

HAVE YOU HAD A MEDICARE WELLNESS VISIT?  

A Focus on Preventative Care  
For more than 40 years, Medicare has provided seniors with health coverage, concentrating on treating beneficiaries’ conditions and diseases when they are sick or injured.  That changed in 2011 when Medicare began emphasizing preventive care to keep people healthy from the start.  

How Did They Do This? 
Medicare began offering beneficiaries free annual wellness visits. During this visit, you can work with your physician to develop a personalized prevention plan. This plan will help you take advantage of another important benefit— the benefit that allows you to receive free preventative care. These benefits mark a major milestone in Medicare’s efforts to keep beneficiaries healthy, rather than just paying for treatment when they are sick.
An Underutilized Benefit 
Although this benefit has been in place for several years, the program has been underutilized. A couple of the reasons why annual wellness visits may not be utilized are: 

1. People are not aware of this benefit  
2. Physician offices are too busy treating sick patients and don’t have the capacity to do wellness visits


What is a Wellness Visit? 
The annual wellness visit, which started in 2011, is designed to serve as a regular checkup for established Medicare patients. This visit includes a review of your medical and social history related to your health.  Your provider will ask you to fill out a questionnaire, called a “Health Risk Assessment,” as part of this visit. Answering these questions can help you and your provider develop a personalized plan letting you know which screenings, vaccinations, education, counseling and other preventative services you need. This plan is designed to help prevent disease and disability based on your current health and risk factors. It also provides an opportunity for you to take ownership of your health, as well as offering your provider the opportunity to have important discussions with you about quitting smoking, losing weight or preventing bad outcomes.

How Does it Work?
The annual visit generally takes a minimum of thirty minutes. In busier practices, this time may be difficult to schedule.  However, physician assistants, nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists can provide the wellness visits in place of a physician or as part of a team.  Your physician will be still involved in the plan developed, but they do not have to conduct the interview or gather data.  Wellness visits can help primary care providers keep patients healthy by using the visit time to discuss lifestyle changes and to schedule necessary screenings.

In an effort to keep our community healthy, St James Parish Hospital’s Primary Care Clinics (Lutcher Family Clinic—Lutcher, LA; Poche Medical Clinic—Lutcher, LA and St. James West Bank Clinic—Vacherie, LA) will be offering wellness visits for Medicare patients. We have welcomed a nurse practitioner to assist physicians and create capacity on our clinic schedules.  If you qualify, you may be contacted to schedule your wellness visit. We also encourage you to schedule your own visit. We are here for you when you are sick or injured, but it is more important for us to keep our community healthy in the first