Managing Your Practice

The well-woman visit comes of age: What it offers, how we got here

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Since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the annual well-woman visit has evolved significantly. It now offers insured patients a broad range of preventive services without cost sharing.


 

References

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, it represented an intended shift from reactive medicine, with its focus on acute and urgent needs, to a model focused on disease prevention.

OBG Management readers know about the important women’s health services ensured by the ACA, including well-woman care, as well as the key role played by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in winning this coverage. ACOG worked closely with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to help define this set of services. And the ACA ensured that women have access to these services, often without copays and deductibles.

ACOG and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) work closely on many issues. At first independently and then together, the 2 organizations set out to explore some fundamental issues:

  • How does a woman experience the new well-woman benefit when she visits her doctor?
  • Does she receive a consistent care set?
  • Do some patients have copays while patients in other clinics do not for the same services?
  • What does well-woman care mean from one doctor to another, from an ObGyn to an internist to a family physician?

This article explores these issues.

2 initiatives focused on components of women’s health care
During her tenure as president of ACOG, Jeanne Conry, MD, PhD, decided to tackle clinical issues associated with well-woman care. She convened a Well-Woman Task Force, led by Haywood Brown, MD, and included the NWLC among other partner organizations (TABLE).

Table. Partipating organizations of the ACOG Well-Woman Task Force
• American Academy of Family Physicians
• American Academy of Pediatrics
• American Academy of Physician Assistants
• American College of Nurse–Midwives
• American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists
• Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
• Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses
• National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health
• National Medical Association
• National Women’s Law Center
• Planned Parenthood Federation of America
• Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine
• Society of Academic Specialists in General Obstetrics and Gynecology
• Society of Gynecologic Oncology

The NWLC and Brigham and Women’s Hospital also partnered with ACOG and others to help ensure a consistent patient experience. These 2 closely related initiatives were designed to work together to help patients and physicians understand and benefit from new coverage under the ACA.

1. How does a woman experience well-woman care?
Experts associated with these 2 initiatives recognized that well-woman care includes attention to the history, physical examination, counseling, and screening intended to maintain physical, mental, and social wellbeing and general health throughout a woman’s lifespan. Experts also recognized that the ACA guarantees coverage of at least one annual well-woman visit, although not all of the recommended components necessarily would be performed at the same visit or by the same provider.

For many women who have gained insurance coverage under the ACA, the well-woman visit represents their entry into the insured health care system. These women may have limited understanding of the services they should receive during this visit.

To address this issue, the NWLC invited ACOG to participate in its initiative with Brigham and Women’s Hospital to understand the well-woman visit from the patient’s point of view. This effort yielded patient education materials in English and Spanish that help women understand:

  • that their health insurance now covers a well-woman visit
  • what care is included in that visit
  • that there is no deductible or copay for this visit
  • how to prepare for this visit
  • what questions to ask during the visit.

These materials help women understand that the purpose of the well-woman visit is to provide them with a chance to:

  • “receive care and counseling that is appropriate, based on age, cognitive development, and life experience
  • review their current health and risks to their health with their health care professional
  • ask any questions they may have about their health or risk factors
  • talk about what they can do to prevent future health problems
  • build a trusting relationship with their health care provider, with an emphasis on confidentiality
  • receive appropriate preventive screenings and immunizations and make sure they know which screenings and immunizations they should receive in the future
  • review their reproductive plan and contraceptive choices.”1

The materials also advise patients that they may be asked about:

  • current health concerns
  • current medications, both prescription and over the counter
  • family history on both the mother’s and father’s sides
  • life management, including family relationships, work, and stress
  • substance use habits, including alcohol and tobacco
  • sexual activity
  • eating habits and physical activity
  • past reproductive health experience and any pregnancy complications
  • any memory problems (older women)
  • screening for depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and interpersonal violence.

To view some of these materials, visit http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/final_well-womanbrochure.pdf.

2. Does each woman receive consistent well-woman care?
ACOG’s Well-Woman Task Force was shaped by an awareness that many medical societies and government agencies provide recommendations and guidelines about the basic elements of women’s health. While these recommendations and guidelines all may be based on evidence and expert opinion, the recommendations vary. A goal of the task force was to work with providers across the women’s health spectrum to find consensus and provide guidance to women and clinicians with age-appropriate recommendations for a well-woman visit.

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