National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) was founded in 2008 to encourage advance care planning discussions. These discussions and decisions are important so that you and your family are all aware of your healthcare wishes, healthcare goals and the possibility of getting sick. They also help when you’re unable to talk comfortably with your family about your goals and wishes.
The date, April 16, was chosen intentionally next to tax day — you know the saying, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes’ — to make discussions about healthcare, goals and even dying just as certain.
What Is Advance Care Planning?
Advance Care Planning isn’t just for people who are getting older. It is important for all adults to plan for future medical needs now because a serious accident or illness can happen at any age.
Advance Care Planning helps adults at any age or stage of health understand and share their personal values, life goals, and preferences regarding future medical care. It is a gift you give your loved ones who might otherwise struggle during a medical emergency to make choices about your care.
Advance Care Planning is not a single decision; it is a process that occurs over a lifetime as goals and values change. Steps in the Advance Care Planning process include:
- Thinking about your wishes for future care if you became seriously ill. Your wishes may be shaped by your experiences, cultural and religious views, your values and your goals.
- Selecting a health care agent – someone that you trust to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself.
- Discussing your wishes with your health care agent and other loved ones. This step is sometimes difficult, but it is a very important, and may help avoid future conflicts.
- Completing an Advance Care Planning document, like an Advance Directive. In some situations, a health care provider might suggest also completing a Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form.
- Making copies and sharing copies with your health care agent, physicians and loved ones. Make sure that your Advance Directive is in your medical record.
- Periodically reviewing your Advance Care Planning documents to be sure names, contact information and healthcare wishes haven’t changed.
Why Is Advance Care Planning Important?
It’s important you have these discussions with your family and those closest to you. People worry that it can be hard talking about getting sick or dying, but these conversations make sure your family knows what to do if they ever need to make medical decisions for you.
Ideally advanced care planning should be an ongoing process of verbal and written communication, in order to strengthen its influence on clinical decision-making. Advance care planning includes:
- expressing personal values and preferences for treatment and care through conversations with family, friends and health practitioners.
- documenting these values and preferences in an advance care directive.
- appointing a medical treatment decision maker.
All of this communication paired with a good understanding of your health and what your doctor anticipates the coming years might look like will make for a great overall plan.
How Do I Get Started?
An easy way to start the conversation is to ask yourself or your loved one what documents already exist, what they are thinking about in terms of advance directives, and how comfortable you or your loved ones are willing to share about how they feel.
There are several tools available for families to help have these conversations as well. A website, theconversationproject.org, helps walk you through the discussions. Many organizations and faith-based groups offer a packet called Five Wishes, where you can go through it and fill it out together. These are meant to help families understand what types of care you may or may not want if you become sicker, or if there was a sudden change in health.
An advance directive has two parts — a healthcare representative form and a living will. The healthcare representative form allows you to designate a specific person who would speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. A living will allows you to document specific wishes, around choices involving CPR, intensive care, dialysis and other advanced therapies.
The form doesn’t need to be notarized or completed by a lawyer and it can be updated at any time. Make sure your doctor and family have a copy.
For more information about advanced directives in Arizona you can visit https://azsos.gov/services/advance-directives.