An Ultrasound Screening Exam During Medicare Wellness Visits May Be Beneficial

J Ultrasound Med. 2021 Jul 17. doi: 10.1002/jum.15788. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: The physical exam component of a periodic health visit in the elderly has not been considered useful. Standard Medicare Wellness visits require no physical exam beyond blood pressure and most physicians perform limited exams during these visits. The objective of this study was to test the feasibility, potential benefit, and costs of performing a screening ultrasound (US) exam during Medicare Wellness visits.

Methods: A physician examiner at an academic internal medicine primary care clinic performed a screening US exam targeting important abnormalities of patients 65-85 years old during a Medicare Wellness visit. The primary care physician (PCP) recorded the follow-up items for each abnormality identified by the US examiner and assessed the benefit of each abnormality for the participant. Abnormality benefit, net exam benefit per participant, follow-up items and costs, participant survey results, and exam duration were assessed.

Results: Participants numbered 108. Total abnormalities numbered 283 and new diagnoses were 172. Positive benefit scores were assigned to 38.8%, neutral (zero) scores to 59.4%, and negative benefit scores to 1.8% of abnormalities. Net benefit scores per participant were positive in 63.9%, 0 in 34.3%, and negative in 1.8%. Follow-up items were infrequent resulting in 76% of participants without follow-up cost. Participant survey showed excellent acceptance of the exam.

Conclusions: The US screening exam identified frequent abnormalities in Medicare Wellness patients. The assessed benefits were rarely negative and often mild to moderately positive, with important new chronic conditions identified. Follow-up costs were low when the PCPs were also US experts.

Keywords: internal medicine; physical exam; primary care; screening ultrasound.