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How to Guide Patients Through the Medicare Health Risk Assessment

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How to Guide Patients Through the Medicare Health Risk Assessment

by Lucy Lamboley

One of the most important steps in a Medicare Annual Wellness Visit, or any preventive health screening, is the completion of a health risk assessment. These questionnaires give providers valuable information as they strive to make informed decisions about the potential health needs of individual patients. However, few patients are enthusiastic about completing these forms and may view them as a tedious chore instead of an essential step toward remaining healthy.

The problem is that if a patient is either unable or unwilling to complete their health risk assessment accurately, the tool becomes ineffective. To fully tap into the potential of preventive medicine to improve patient outcomes and control healthcare costs, medical providers must find ways to encourage their patients to complete the health risk assessment. Here are a few suggestions that may help.

Ask the Right Questions

One important method for encouraging participation in health risk assessments is making sure that the questionnaire applies to the individual. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have released guidelines governing the use of health risk assessments, particularly as they apply to Medicare Annual Wellness Visits. However, this guidance does not include an officially sanctioned questionnaire, so there are a variety of options. This variety can actually be viewed as an opportunity because it allows medical practices, or provider networks, the chance to select a health risk assessment that is best suited to the cultural, demographic, and health needs of their patient population.

Provide Flexibility

According to CMS recommendations, a single Medicare Annual Wellness Visit Health Risk Assessment should take no more than 20 minutes. However, the reality is that some questionnaires can actually take more than 30 minutes for a patient to complete. Providing patients with options for how and when to fill out a health risk assessment allows them to select the method that best fits their personal needs.

Some patients, particularly older patients, may still be most comfortable completing assessments in the exam room with a pen and a clipboard, but this should not be the only option. Providing patients the ability to complete the questionnaire well in advance of an appointment is one strategy for providing flexibility. These options may include providing paper forms in advance, or even allowing the patient to complete the assessments through email or text messages.

Technology has opened up more options for completing health risk assessments in advance of appointments. Instead of filling out a paper form at home, a patient may log into a portal and complete a questionnaire that will be digitally transmitted to their healthcare provider. Digital forms can also provide additional flexibility in the office. For example, a patient who needs to complete their forms before an appointment may be provided a tablet instead of a pen and clipboard.  

Whether the health risk assessments are completed well before an appointment, or in the waiting room, digital forms provide patients several distinct advantages. For example, these questionnaires often include question trees that automatically add or remove questions based on the patient’s previous answers. This results in a more patient-specific questionnaire, as well as potential time savings. Digital forms are also beneficial for medical practices because they can be automatically saved in the discrete fields of an EMR. This improves ease of use, aides the use of analytics, and reduces the time needed for staff members to process the forms.

Communicate Effectively

Not all patients have access to a computer or other digital device that would allow them to easily complete their health risk assessments before coming in for their appointment. This means that there will always be some patients who are completing the process in the office. If a patient is unable, or unwilling, to complete their health risk assessments in advance of their wellness visit, then another important tactic for encouraging accurate questionnaires is to clearly communicate requirements and expectations.

Health risk assessments often ask a variety of questions that a patient may not know. An individual may be unaware of their family health history or not sure of the exact names and dosages of all of their medication.  If a patient chooses to complete an assessment in advance, they are able to gather this information before finalizing the form. However, if an assessment is being completed in office, and the patient is unaware of the needed information, it can result in an inaccurate or incomplete questionnaire. 

To prevent this from occurring, it is important for practice staff to proactively communicate the information needed so that a patient can come prepared to fully complete their health risk assessment

A patient understanding the assessment requirements ahead of time may also smooth out the process in other ways. For example, if a patient is not comfortable completing the process on their own, they may choose to invite a friend or family member to assist them. Advanced understanding of the process may also allow patients the opportunity to arrange for accommodations for disabilities such as visual impairment.

Emphasize the Value

Providing options and communicating requirements are important steps towards guiding a patient through the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit health risk assessment process. Still, they are really only effective if a patient is willing to invest the time to accurately complete a questionnaire.

As a result, a critical strategy for encouraging patients to complete their health risk assessment is to help them see the value of the information being collected. One way this can be done is by using the completed questionnaire to provide personalized feedback during the wellness visit and in the creation of personalized prevention plans. When a patient can see the role a questionnaire plays in keeping them healthy, it changes the process from a chore to an important piece of their health journey.

Health risk assessments can be invaluable in preventive care, but they are only effective when the patient has the ability and motivation to accurately and thoroughly complete the questionnaires. Finding ways to help patients complete these assessments by providing flexibility, communicating requirements, and helping patients understand the value of the process is key to making the health risk assessment an effective tool.

Prevounce gives medical practices the tools they need to efficiently communicate with patients, as well as provide their patients with the flexibility necessary to complete their Medicare Annual Wellness Visit health risk assessments in a way that makes sense for their individual needs and circumstances.

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