Advance care planning is making decisions about the healthcare you would want to receive if you’re facing a medical crisis, before the crisis happens. These are your decisions to make. They are based on your personal values, preferences, and discussions with those close to you.

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) was founded in 2007. Its purpose is to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of creating an advance care plan. Normally observed on April 16 of each year, NHDD was rescheduled to July 16th this year to align with the rescheduled Tax Day.This re-scheduled day was  given the name “NHDD 2.0”. NHDD 2.0 gives us another opportunity to think about this important activity.

When you consider health decisions ahead of time and put those wishes in writing – create an advance care plan – you bring peace of mind to you and your family. You give them the guidance to confidently make decisions for you if you are ever unable to decide for yourself. With an advance care plan, you are more likely to avoid the difficult situations that are so common if you become seriously ill. Without a plan  your loved ones are left to guess what you would have wanted. At Chaplaincy Health Care, we see all too often the difficulty and struggle families in this situation face.  We encourage you to carefully consider your healthcare goals. Talk to your loved ones about your wishes, not only at end-of-life, but throughout your lifetime.

Here are four steps you can take to put your advance directive in place:

1. Start by making a plan.

Think about your personal values and preferences. How do you define quality of life? What ability do you have now that is so important to you that you can’t imagine life without it? What tradeoff would you accept to live another day, week, month, year? Educate yourself about types of life-sustaining treatments that may be offered during a medical crisis or serious illness and their risks and benefits.

Put your preferences in writing in the form of an Advance Directive (AD). Your AD includes (1) a Living Will, a document that specifies medical treatments you would want to receive, and (2) identification of medical/healthcare power of attorney (POA). Your POA is the person you want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. Choose someone who will make the decisions you would make, not do what they think is best for you. Make sure that person is willing to serve as your POA.

You may want to wait to finalize these documents until you talk with your family, or you may want them involved in the planning process.

2. Continue with a conversation.

Tell your family and those close to you what you want and don’t want, and tell them why. The “why” can help them reason through making a decision that might not be explicitly stated in your AD.

3. Finalize your Advance Directive.

Provide copies to your physicians, your POA, and the hospital where you typically get treatment. Keep the original in a safe, but accessible, place. Put a copy in a brightly colored envelope along with a summary of your medical history, current list of medications, and a copy of your insurance cards. Keep the envelope in a convenient place. You will need to grab it on your way to the emergency room or  give to emergency medical personnel if they are called to your home.

4. Keep the conversation going.

Goals and perspectives change over time. Stay informed about your health and treatments offered. Ask your doctor tough questions. Review your AD periodically, especially after a significant life event, such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child, and children reaching adulthood, and prior to a planned surgery or significant procedure. Update your AD as needed and destroy outdated copies. By doing this, you will be better prepared if a serious illness strikes, and your loved ones will have the confidence to support your wishes.

Here are some additional resources to guide you through the process:

Compassion & Choices, My End-of-Life Decisions

The Conversation Project, Your Conversation Starter Kit

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, CaringInfo Resources

Advanced care planning is about making the healthcare decisions you want to receive should you be unable to communicate them. When you complete your AD you are giving those closest to you peace of mind by taking the guesswork out of the decisions they may be faced with. Start by making a plan, talking with your family about your wishes and put it in writing.If you have additional questions, please contact us: https://chaplaincyhealthcare.org/contact-chaplaincy-health-care/