CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Researchers say patients with diabetes who participate in free annual wellness visits, which are covered by Medicare, are less likely to need an amputation.

The scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found patients who go to such appointments will lower their risk of needing an amputation by 36 percent.

Patients who have diabetes are at high risk for other serious health complications, such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and the loss of toes, feet or legs.

Dr. Jennifer Lobo, an associate professor at the UVA School of Medicine, says preventative care is the key factor in reducing amputation risk, and people should reach out if they need help getting such care.

“Anything we can do to help patients seek that preventative care, overcome any systemic barriers to access what they have,” she said. “So, if they need more education about how to manage their diabetes. If they need transportation resources or a patient navigator to help them understand the health care system and how to navigate the preventative care services that are available to them.”

The study found significantly higher rates of diabetes-related amputations among non-Hispanic Black patients compared with non-Hispanic white patients in and outside of an area called the Diabetes Belt.

This belt includes 644 counties in the southeastern and Appalachian regions with higher rates of diabetes and it includes parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Regarding diabetes patients in this region, they had 27 percent greater odds of needing the amputation of a lower extremity compared to people living outside of that area.

But patients in and outside the Diabetes Belt were able to reduce their risk if they went to annual wellness visits.

Patients who did participate in such visits were able to have potential complications diagnosed sooner, resulting in fewer amputations, as well as being more engaged in their care, which can reduce the risk of serious complications associated with diabetes.

These findings have been presented at a recent American Diabetes Association's Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.

Patients are encouraged to reach out to their primary care doctor in order to schedule an annual wellness visit.