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What is a wellness exam and why do I need one?


There are two principle types of visits in a medical outpatient clinic: the acute care visit and the wellness visit. Using a car analogy, an acute visit deals with a funny noise or failure in the car, whereas a wellness visit covers routine maintenance like an oil change

In human terms, an acute visit is for a new, usually short-term, medical problem such as a cold, flu, laceration, knee injury, etc. At an acute visit, your physicians are focused on the area of concern. We try to help you with that concern and then get you back to your regular life as quickly as possible.

A wellness visit is a more comprehensive and preventive health visit. The history and exam are performed when one is healthy to prevent future medical problems. One of the best examples of this is a well-child visit. These are performed when children are healthy to monitor physical growth and mental development, perform a comprehensive exam, administer routine vaccinations, and discuss healthy living such as helmets, seatbelts, and avoidance of smoking.

Adults need wellness visits as well. There are recommended routine vaccinations including annual influenza, tetanus, whooping cough, pneumonia for those with lung conditions or of appropriate age, etc. We can also discuss cancer screening programs to prevent or diagnose cancer at an early stage, including breast (mammogram), cervical (Pap smear), colon (stool blood or colonoscopy), prostate (blood and/or exam), skin (skin exam) and lung cancer (CT scan).

Wellness visits allow physicians to recommend healthy lifestyle choices: We can help people quit smoking to prevent emphysema/COPD or lung cancer and encourage using sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, and seatbelts to prevent injury or death. Weight versus height can be measured to calculate body mass index (BMI) and if it is above 30, weight loss strategies can be discussed for optimal health. Most adults should have a cholesterol screening at least every 5 years, and risk factors for heart disease can be discussed, including hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, smoking, and family history. We try to perform a comprehensive family history to see if there are trends within your family for medical conditions that can be diagnosed early or prevented altogether.

With recent changes in health care law, insurance companies are mandated to provide one free wellness visit per year. At these visits, you may ask about a new problem such as knee pain, but insurance typically will charge a co-pay or not pay for the history and exam of that problem unless you have hit your deductible. Medicare does not pay for wellness physical exams but does pay for a counseling visit–the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit (AWV).

Here in southern Gallatin Valley, the shoulder season is a great time for local residents to get a wellness exam because we have ample time to discuss all of your healthcare needs. To schedule a wellness visit with a Bozeman Health Family Medicine, Big Sky physician, please call 406-995–6995 or stop by the new Big Sky Medical Center.

Categories: Simply Healthy