April 16 to April 22 is National Healthcare Decisions Week, a week set aside to encourage all of us to discuss and document important healthcare wishes before a stressful health crisis occurs. These wishes can include decisions about what we value most should we become seriously ill or have a disease that is progressing. Advance care planning allows for the documentation of treatment preferences so our wishes can be followed should we become ill.
It can be tough to get started. It may even feel a bit awkward, but powerful conversations with family members today can ensure end-of-life care preferences are honored and reduce stress and uncertainty in the future. Planning today means that you can take comfort tomorrow in knowing that your loved ones will receive the treatments they want, and be protected from the care that they don’t want or value.
According to a national survey by The Conversation Project, more than 90 percent of the people think it’s important to talk about their loved ones’ and their own wishes for end-of-life care, but fewer than 30 percent of people have actually had these important conversations. Many people simply haven’t gotten around to taking the necessary steps to make their health care wishes known. Sometimes people don’t know how to start the conversation with their loved ones.
A great way to start is by thinking about what is most important to you if you or your loved ones were facing a life threatening or progressive illness, and then you can move on to thoughtful and open conversations with those you love. Here are some steps to help get the conversation started:
• Think about what is most important to you. What things in life are so important that you can’t imagine living without them? What are you worried about most should you become ill? Who would you prefer to make medical decisions on your behalf with your physicians if you could not?
• Talk with your loved ones. Honest communication can help families avoid the stress of guessing what a family member would have wanted. Be open with each other and focus on really understanding the views of those you love. You may find that you and your loved ones may see some things differently. That’s okay. Talk through it, listen and keep an open mind. Sometimes it is helpful to say “tell me more” when you’re stuck.
• Make it official. Once you’ve had the conversation, formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. There are several ways to do this. An advance directive can help describe your medical wishes when you no longer can. Special medical orders can be developed with your doctor. Finally, a health care proxy identifies your health care agent—the person you trust to act on your behalf if you are unable to make your own medical decisions.
Advance care planning is a process that happens over time and more often when someone is facing a serious illness. Knowing what patients want and value helps ensure people get the care they want. I have seen firsthand improved quality of life and the sense of peace, calm and satisfaction families experience knowing their loved one’s health care wishes are followed
—Dana Lustbader, M.D.
ProHEALTH, New Hyde Park