Expert Perspective

March 02, 2022

Completing Annual Physicals, the First Quarter: A Best Practice That Has Rewards For All

Alfred Wettermark, MD – Regional Medical Executive, Northeast

When people think about what to do during wintertime, getting an annual physical isn’t something that often jumps to mind. However, medical practices that can get their patients in for annual physicals during the first quarter of the year can see benefits in terms of better patient care, improved quality metrics, and stronger performance in value-based agreements (VBAs).

Why is this?

Typically, VBAs have quality metrics that measure performance from January to December each year. This is especially true for those contacts that support traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage populations. The earlier you can see patients during the calendar year, the more time you have to identify gaps in their care, complete further testing, update prescriptions, and provide referrals if needed before the year ends. Being intentional about scheduling visits—as opposed to waiting for patients to call and make an appointment—can also help you connect earlier with people who have chronic conditions, which increases the chances of identifying a concern early, potentially avoiding an unnecessary acute care visit.

Benefits of working with physician extenders

Seeing your senior patients across a three-month period may seem like a tall order. However, when using experienced and well-trained physician extenders, such as nurse practitioners, practices can complete the appointments more easily. Extenders can also spend more time with patients—30 minutes instead of 15 minutes, for example.

During the appointment, the provider can review the patient’s known conditions and ask about anything that has happened since their last visit that could point to a new problem or barrier to care. From the patient’s perspective, the appointment feels no different than a regular annual check-up, and by using this approach, medical practices can close care gaps more effectively and efficiently. This also allows physicians to focus on complex cases or acute situations that require their level of expertise.

Upfront planning can help you get the most out of the appointment

When you plan ahead to place orders for all of the patient’s required labs and screenings in one visit, you don’t have to rely on the patient to call the office to schedule those screenings. All appointments can be scheduled immediately – and some completed – before the patient leaves the office. By completing labs, giving patients orders for their necessary screenings, and updating their prescription refills all in one visit, the patient only needs to see you again if there’s a problem—which is convenient for them and you.

Designing physicals with quality metrics and value-based care requirements in mind ensures that specific quality improvement activities are completed, which can help improve Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) scores and Stars performance. Having a guide or template ensures that the visit covers all it needs to, whether that’s certain screenings, lab work, physical exams, and so on.

Note that if you’re not able to finish all the required activities during the annual visit, it’s wise to schedule follow-up visits while the patient is in the office, making sure the time and location is convenient for them. Care coordinators can then follow up to remind the patient of the appointment, using the individual’s preferred communication method. Both of these strategies will increase the likelihood the patient actually comes back for the necessary care.

For more information about how to identify Medicare beneficiary health and risk factors through an Annual Wellness Visit, watch our past Valuable Insights: Annual Wellness Visits webcast.

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