Make Your Wishes Known: National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16
Posted: April 1, 2015
Would you allow a stranger to make an important life choice for you, such as the purchase of a home or automobile? The overwhelming response is most likely a resounding “no.” What about a major health care decision, such as receiving life support treatment or alleviating pain, if you’re unable to speak for yourself?
National Health Care Decisions Day, April 16, is dedicated to educating and empowering the public and healthcare providers to learn more about the importance of advance care planning.
Less than 50 percent of severely or terminally ill patients have an advance directive in their medical record, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. What’s more shocking is that 65 to 76 percent of physicians whose patients do have an advance directive are not aware that it exists.
An advanced directive is a legal document expressing your health care preferences if you are unable to make decisions on your own. For example, would you want medical treatment to prolong your life if the prognosis is poor? Would you want a feeding tube in the event that you cannot eat? Advance planning is ensuring your health care treatment is consistent with your requests. You may think your family, friends and your doctors will automatically know what you want when an illness occurs. But everyone may have a different interpretation and so your wishes will not be followed unless you are honest, open and clear with what you want.
The best time to complete an advanced directive is before a health crisis occurs. Reflect and allow time to have an honest discussion with yourself as to what you want, and do not want, at the end-of-life. Ask yourself who will speak on your behalf. Address concerns that you might have about quality of life and what gives your life the most meaning. Think about the wishes you want your doctors, family and friends to know. Then, write them down in a clear, detailed way.
There are many online resources to assist you with advance care planning. Advanced directives can be easily created for free; without going through an attorney. Once your wishes are documented, discuss them with your friends and family. Give a copy to your physician and your dedicated spokesperson that will make your health care decisions for you. Keep a personal copy and review it annually to make any necessary changes. You can always change your mind, but be sure to inform all those involved.
Advanced directives are important for all adults, young and old alike. I encourage you to think about what you want during end-of-life care. Have meaningful and thoughtful discussions with your loved ones and make your wishes known. Let now be the right time. Because no one should have someone else make decisions for them.