April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD). If that’s news to you, you’re not alone. You don’t get the day off from work, and there’s no greeting card for the occasion, yet it’s important enough to mark in bold red letters on your calendar. Here’s why.
If you had a sudden health event, such as a car accident or a stroke, and couldn’t make your own health care decisions, would your loved ones know what to do? Would they know your wishes regarding resuscitation orders, the full scope of care you request, or other end-of-life preferences?
Without an advance directive, the answer is likely no.
NHDD exists to educate people about the importance of recording and communicating your health care preferences by creating an advanced directive. It’s also a reminder to revisit your choices each year in case your circumstances change.
Discussing death or a debilitating illness with friends and family can be uncomfortable. But it’s better than experiencing the stress and uncertainty that comes with making difficult decisions during a health crisis.
What Consumers Need to Know
Advanced care planning involves four important steps:
- Educate yourself. Talk with your primary health care provider about available end-of-life options so you can make the right choices for yourself. We also partner with Honoring Choices PNW, a resource to help you start the conversation with your family about your health care wishes. The website includes information about creating a legally valid Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
- Create an advance directive. An advance directive has two parts: the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and the Health Care Directive, also known as a living will. This is a legal document that outlines the treatments you would or would not want if you were permanently unconscious or not expected to recover. Your directive doesn’t need to be complicated, but it should clearly express your wishes.
- Choose a health care agent. Pick a loved one to serve as your care agent and explain your wishes to them so they are prepared to advocate for you if you can’t speak for yourself. You should also share your advance directive with your primary care provider, your attorney, and your hospital. And be sure to make it readily available. It won’t do any good hiding away in a desk drawer or file cabinet where it’s hard to find. The health care agent and the directive will apply only if you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself.
- Revisit it annually. Read your advanced directive each year, revise as necessary, and inform your provider and loved ones about any changes. NHDD is a great reminder to do that.
Think of your advance directive as a detailed guide to your loved ones should they ever need to make decisions on your behalf.
What Providers Need to Know
- As a provider, you can help by educating your patients about the need for advanced planning. These conversations should cover the differences between curative and palliative care, examine what quality of life means to your patient, treatment options including the benefits of palliative care and hospice, and ways to prepare the family for end of life. These honest conversations will help you better understand and respect the wishes of your patients. It also offers guidelines for providing the best and most appropriate end-of-life care.
- Then, once they understand why advancing planning is important, encourage your patients to complete an advance directive, choose a health care agent, and revisit their directive each year.
Along with the peace of mind an advance directive will bring you, being prepared relieves your loved ones from the burden of trying to honor your wishes without the proper information. For more information, visit the National Healthcare Decisions Day website or consult your provider.