Updated Sunday, April 15, 2018
Think about it: You are seriously injured in a car accident. You experience a devastating stroke. You are facing an advanced illness.
In any of these scenarios and hundreds of others, you could require life-sustaining care and would not be able to communicate your wishes.
Would your family and healthcare providers know the type of treatment you desire…or don’t desire?
Talking with family, friends, and your doctor about your wishes for medical care at any stage of your life is called advance care planning. And while research shows that 90% of people think it’s important to have these conversations, less than 30% do.
Not an easy conversation...but just start
Granted, conversations about end-of-life care can be difficult, and specific choices about future care are not always clear. Most people can’t fully predict what medical treatment they would or would not want.
But what you can do is talk about your goals, values, and what is important to you before you face an illness or crisis.
There are no right or wrong choices. What matters is you make the choices that are right for you and explain them to your loved ones.
Talk early and often
Through ongoing conversations, your loved ones and healthcare professionals are far more likely to be able to implement the medical treatment you desire, and, most importantly, honor your wishes.
All too often, family members must make difficult medical decisions in crisis situations, with little or no guidance from the person who is critically ill.For example, if you would strongly favor hospice care in the face of advanced illness, and your family is aware of your wishes, your doctor can make a timely referral to hospice, thus avoiding unwanted and unnecessary hospitalization. Otherwise, a hospice referral may be made too late and you may receive unwanted medical treatment.
Everyone should have an advance directive
In addition to ongoing conversations with your family, having an advance directive to document your healthcare wishes and appoint a surrogate decision-maker is an important part of the advance care planning process.
An advance directive includes two forms: a healthcare power of attorney and a living will. Both forms can be downloaded here.
By taking action now, you provide a wonderful gift to your family, and they to you, if someday they are faced with making decisions on your behalf.
Additional information, resources and tools on how to start the conversation with your family can be found at The Conversation Project theconversationproject.org and LG Health’s website: lghealth.org/advancecareplanning.