National Healthcare Decisions Day

April 16th

Advance care planning is a time to stop and think about who would make medical decisions for us if we suddenly became ill, and what kind of treatments we would want based on our own goals and values. Our delay in having these conversations is because it often seems too early, then, suddenly, we find it is too late…

The purpose of National Healthcare Decisions Day is to inspire, educate and empower the public and healthcare providers about the importance of making our choices and preferences about health care known to our loved ones and providers.  It also helps to demystify healthcare decision-making and helps each of us to truly focus on the importance of making our own advance care planning decisions.

Now is the time to have discussions with your family members to understand “what matters most” and who should be making medical decisions for them.

It’s not just for older people

Illness is difficult to predict, and it’s nondiscriminatory. It can happen at any time, at any age, when you least expect it, and it can leave you unable to make your own decisions about your care. Making health care plans for the future, even if you aren’t sick now, can help to ensure that if a medical crisis does occur, you will receive the care you want in the setting you prefer.

It’s OK if you aren’t sure what you want

There is no “one size fits all” approach to advance care planning. What is right for you may not be right for someone else. The key is to identify what’s important to you, and you can start that process by asking yourself  “what matters most to you in your life”, who you would want to make decisions about your care if you become unable to do so and what types of medical care you do and do not want. 

My Directives and Advance directives in Health in Aging website are wonderful, free resources that can help you to prepare your thoughts before you begin the advance care planning process.

It all starts with a conversation

Advance care planning begins with a conversation. This conversation may be with your physician, your loved ones, your spiritual leader, your neighbor – whomever you choose, and in whatever location you choose. There are no rules for discussing your end-of-life care wishes, there are no right or wrong answers, and it’s not a discussion that has to be completed in a single day.

For many, it won’t be an easy conversation to have. Death and dying can be an emotional and frightening subject, and some of your loved ones may not be ready to discuss it with you, or they may have different opinions than you. What you must remember is that as difficult as this conversation may be, it would be even more difficult for your loved ones to have to make those decisions for you without knowing what you would and would not have wanted.

Taking the most important step

Once you’ve decided what you want and discussed your wishes with the people important to you, you must take the next step and document your wishes. In most states, there are two advance care planning documents available: the living will, and the health care power of attorney

The Living Will is a legal document that states what kinds of treatment should be given to you when you can no longer make decisions or speak for yourself. It only goes into effect if you are terminally ill and have lost decision-making capacity, and it is usually completed in advance of any known illness. You complete it yourself, and unless there are other known facts, it must be honored. To become valid (depending on state laws), it must include the signatures of two witnesses and/or be notarized. 

The Health Care Power of Attorney document authorizes someone else to make decisions about your health care when you are no longer able to make those decisions or speak for yourself. To become valid (depending on state laws), it must include the signatures of two witnesses and/or be notarized. Advance Directive documents and information about National POLST can be found here

Having said all that:

I’ll ask you this: Do you want your loved ones’ last memory of you to be the one of them making decisions about your care at the end of your life? If it’s not, please – for their sake as well as your own – make those decisions now, tell them what you want and document your wishes.

Remember, the worst plan you can have is no plan at all!