Is your practice ready for an influx of baby boomers? According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 10,000 baby boomers have turned 65 every day since January 1, 2011. This trend will continue until 2030, when 18 percent of the population will be at least 65-years-old.
What does this increase in seniors and Medicare patients mean to physicians and other healthcare providers? The Affordable Care Act offers a preview, putting a number of regulations into place designed to encourage fee-for-quality and preventive care. While these steps are meant to help Medicare get a handle on rising healthcare costs, they represent a real paradigm shift for physicians.
Preventive care is not something that was emphasized to most of us in medical school. We were trained to treat disease. This means many of us lack a truly comprehensive knowledge of multidisciplinary screening recommendations, as well as the tools to be able to conduct a high-quality wellness visit.
The good news is that the Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) is a Medicare-covered preventive service that can be performed by non-physician providers. Rather than divert physician time from acute care visits, a nurse practitioner or physician assistant can provide the service using a combination of Medicare guidelines and technology that automates information such as appropriate screening timelines, tools to assess functionality and mental state, and health improvement recommendations.
Having a non-physician provider conduct the visit can actually be better for patients, too. Surveys have shown that patients often are happier visiting with these providers because they don’t feel rushed and are comfortable asking questions. This not only results in a more complete wellness assessment, but it also leads to increased patient compliance with recommendations — something we definitely want boomers to do.
Unfortunately, fewer than 30 percent to 40 percent of adults aged 65 years and older are up to date with recommended age-specific preventive screenings. This is cause for concern as boomers with relatively sedentary lifestyles enter their senior years fighting obesity and related chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Payers — commercial and government alike — are beginning to recognize the importance of incentivizing patients to take charge of their health. Prime examples include lower deductibles or additional funds in a Health Reimbursement Account for activities such as smoking cessation. Physicians, too, are starting to see bonus dollars for referring patients to smoking cessation programs or supporting wellness in other ways.
There is no question that the baby boomer generation will challenge the healthcare system. As physicians, though, we have the opportunity to improve preventive care, reduce the risk of chronic illness, and improve the health of our patients. The key to success is finding a way to offer wellness and preventive services in a way that is positive for our practices, as well as our patients.