The Annual Wellness Exam: At The Heart of Lower Healthcare Costs



Meghan Markovich, M.D. Physician Director of Value Based Performance at St. Elizabeth Healthcare

John Keeling

 

“The annual wellness exam is where we take a look at what is going on in your life. It’s that checkup that can set a patient on the course for long-term health maintenance,” says Dr. Meghan Markovich, Physician Director of Value Based Performance at St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

The annual exam is where doctors make sure you are up-to-date with cancer screenings, blood screenings for things like cholesterol and blood pressure, and review family history, especially for cardiac disease and cancer.

And, yes, doctors will do a little lecturing on diet and exercise.

“It’s easy for me to warn people about the need to exercise and watch their diet, but difficult for patients to always do it,” Markovich admits. “I have found working to set specific goals can be helpful, such as setting a target weight loss between visits or working on a specific diet area, such as cutting out pop. Making these small changes over time is more sustainable for long term health.”

Numerous studies have confirmed what is intuitive. “Annual wellness exams increase the quality of care and lower the long-term costs,” says Markovich.

It should come as no great revelation that an emphasis on preventive healthcare will save billions of dollars in healthcare costs, not to mention make us all healthier and happier.

That's why one of the biggest trends in the healthcare industry involves getting people of all ages in the habit of showing up for an annual wellness exam, which is at the heart of a preventive, proactive healthcare regimen.

There are dozens of examples to prove the point, ranging from early treatment for diabetes and hypertension to blood screenings for various problems and early cancer detection, which can help avoid more costly and complicated treatments.    

“If you are 38 and receive treatment for high blood pressure there is less a chance of having a stroke at 68,” Markovich says. “Hypertension is the silent killer. You usually don’t have any symptoms.”

Despite the obvious benefits of an annual wellness exam, Markovich says it can be frustrating that many people don’t get in the habit. “Most come in when they have a problem and want to do it all in that visit,” she says.

Fortunately, that is changing because of initiatives from the federal government to healthcare systems like St. Elizabeth. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) relies heavily on preventive physician visits to keep costs down, mandating the annual checkup is covered by insurance. Markovich, like many primary care physicians, says she’s seen an influx of new patients thanks to the ACA.

St. Elizabeth last year launched a major effort to assure older adults get their annual checkup, required by Medicare. This year, the system is reminding people of all ages an annual checkup is important. St. Elizabeth has set a lofty goal to lead Northern Kentucky to become one of the healthiest communities in America. It is well-positioned to reach the community with 30 primary care offices and 41 specialties and services in three states and nine counties, staffed by 586 providers (physicians and nurse practitioners), with five medical centers in the Northern Kentucky region.

Markovich, who is board-certified in pediatrics and internal medicine, says she finds young people are still the toughest demographic to get into the habit of an annual checkup. After all, they can’t imagine they’ll ever get sick. Her challenge to young folks: “A checkup is a way to make sure everything is going as well as you think it is.”

St. Elizabeth Healthcare has 30 primary care offices and five medical centers throughout Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana. For locations and physician information, visit www.stelizabeth.com or www.stedocs.com