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Annual Medicare Wellness Visit Awareness Becomes a Project for Dr. Michael Greer at KSB

Your child’s illness, your spouse’s nagging chest pains, or your diabetes monitoring doesn’t stop for a pandemic – and neither does KSB. Hospitals and clinics across the country are seeing significant drops of patient visits for emergency care, routine care, and annual wellness visits during the pandemic. In particular, primary care providers are seeing a direct hit for Annual Medicare Wellness Visits (AWV), which provides Medicare patients free annual checkups. Dr. Michael Greer, a family medicine resident at the KSB Family Health Center also noticed this trend and decided to do something about it.

Dr. Greer is a third-year resident in the Dixon Rural Training Track (RTT) program which is a progressive, three-year residency program. It is for family physicians-in-training who are deeply committed to establishing a family medicine career in a rural setting. Established in 2004, Dixon RRT is an affiliate of the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford and community-based KSB Hospital. RTT adds two new residents a year.

Dr. Gregory Reckamp, director of the Dixon RTT program and a KSB family medicine physician, said, “Each year, second-year residents do a quality improvement project. Dr. Greer’s project is working with Medicare wellness visits.”

The AWV allows physicians to spend focused time with Medicare patients to go over all the details of their patient’s history – screenings, prescription use and past lab tests as well as reviewing other components of their care. It provides screening for both health and wellness safety aspects. Since most Medicare patients are 65 years and older, they have more doctors involved in their care and typically, their medication lists are longer. In addition, many seniors rely on services that are more supportive rather than medical, such as Meals on Wheels and home nursing. With all these external programs, it can be easy to lose track of all the patient’s needs and often, routine day-to-day issues may get overlooked if a regular annual wellness visit doesn’t take place.  Having the time to discuss a patient’s home and lifestyle routines can open a dialog to prevent future problems.

“For example,” said Greer, we ask our patients whether there are throw rugs in their home. Removal of these rugs can avoid a costly and painful fall for an older person. It’s part of learning all aspects of our patients’ lives.”

Medicare created the Annual Wellness Visit program approximately 8-9 years ago. Dr. Greer noticed that only 1.3% of Medicare patients knew about the free annual visit. His quality improvement project was developed to increase that percentage.

Greer needed the simplest and least cumbersome way to get the word out to patients about the free service. Posters, informational flyers, and staff education are the primary tools for promoting the program. By keeping it uncomplicated, any clinic and hospital provider can put it into place.

A vital training effort with staff is getting them to look at the patient chart to see if the individual is on Medicare and if so, to ask if they know of the annual visit and its benefits. Another training aspect is to inform patients that lab tests are not part of the free visit. If someone wants their cholesterol checked, the trained receptionist or nurse will inform the patient that they need to schedule a separate appointment for the test.

The original kick-off of Dr. Greer’s awareness project was June 1st, but due to pandemic issues, it started on July 1st. The project runs until the end of the year.

The awareness program is currently taking place at the Family Health Center (FHC) located at  Town Square Centre in Dixon. “Hopefully, if all goes well, we can then implement the AWV awareness training to primary care clinics in Oregon, Polo, Amboy, and Dixon.

All of KSB’s primary care clinics are open for patient visits. Pandemic safety guidelines are in place. There is still a “no visitor” restriction in practice, but patients are welcome.

Any Medicare patient that wants to set up their AWV may contact their provider at any time. They need to mention the AWV when setting up the appointment to ensure that no fees show on their account.