Advance Care Planning

Understanding Advance Care Planning

Everyone receives the standard of care during a medical emergency (when you cannot communicate)—unless they have a legal document or medical order to direct health care providers to direct them otherwise. If you do not want the standard of care applied to you, then you should use advance care planning to help ensure you get what you want.

Standard of Care is the treatment automatically provided when you can’t communicate. Providers will do all they can to save your life.

Legal Documents. You use these to authorize someone to make health care decisions for you. You also include your general treatment wishes in these.

Medical Orders (POLST forms and do not resuscitate orders) are created and signed by health care providers and give specific medical treatment orders to other providers based on your wishes.

If you want to learn more about standard of care, legal documents, and medical orders, please read our document on Understanding Advance Care Planning (PDF). You may also want to review our chart about Standard of Care and Advance Care Planning (PDF).

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Why Do Advance Care Planing?

By doing advance care planning you are taking steps to share your personal goals, values, religious, cultural beliefs — and how you want things to go if you have a medical emergency and you can’t talk or communicate. Use these three steps:

  1. Talk to your health care provider about what kinds of treatment you want if something unexpectedly happened to you, such as getting in a serious car accident. Your provider should make notes in your medical record. Since those notes can’t always be found right away you want to go to Step 2…
  2. Write down what you want. Fill out an advance directive and, if appropriate, ask your health care provider to complete a POLST form with you. This way, if you can’t speak or communicate, your provider, family and friends will have a good idea about what medical treatments you want.
  3. Share! Sharing your decisions, your advance directive and, if you have one, your POLST form with your family and friends helps them support your choices if there are questions you are unable to answer.

Ways to have the conversation with friends and family

For additional help in having these conversations, you may visit these websites:

  • The Conversation Project. If you’re ready to dig in, provides “Conversation Starter Kits” to help you talk to family and friends about end-of-life care. Translated into over 10 languages.
  • Caring Conversations provides a workbook to help you focus on what matters to you your health care decisions, walking you steps to Reflect, Talk, Appoint and Act, to help you craft and advance care plan.
  • The Go Wish game gives you an easy and even entertaining way to talk about needs when someone is seriously ill.

Next Steps

Learn more about two advance care planning tools: POLST and Advance Directives.