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Advance Directive Planning – Celebrate National Healthcare Decision Day

April 16th was National Healthcare Decision Day (www.nhdd.org). Although 80% of people say it is “very” or “somewhat” important to write down their healthcare wishes, only 36% actually have written instructions.

My goal, as is the NHDD’s mission, is to make the topic of Advance Care Planning easier. This post will give a general overview of the topic and provide links that you can explore further. Let’s dip a toe into this topic (it’s a Big Toe, but still a toe).

Since this can be a confusing and often misunderstood topic, you may want to discuss this with your primary care physician during your next visit. Or, if your family has an attorney, or financial planner, it is a good topic to discuss with him or her as you plan for your future. All of these professionals are aware of the need for these types of documents.

Here’s why Advance Directive Planning is SO important to do when you are healthy or before you are planning elective procedures. Because IF you cannot speak for yourself, your Advance Directive documents are the documents that clearly outline your values and preferences for your healthcare.

Many people get caught up in the idea that these documents are meant for “end of life” or when someone is mostly likely going to die. But, I disagree.

I believe that going through the process of knowing what kind of care you want IF you cannot speak, or make decisions for yourself, is vitally important for three reasons:

1. It takes away a huge burden that your family would bear if they had to make decisions on your behalf without knowing your desires.

2. It gives you an opportunity to think about, and decide for yourself, how you want your health, body and life to be handled JUST in case you cannot speak or decide for yourself.

3. It gives your healthcare providers – doctors, hospitals and others — clear directions so that you are more assured that those taking care of you follow your desires as well.

Because this process requires you to think about what your desires would be IF your family had to make healthcare decisions for you, it is important to do your homework and not just fill out paperwork.

I have learned a lot over the years about the value of lifesaving techniques (like cardiac resuscitation), but I have also seen the statistics and experienced first-hand the challenges of making decisions for my first husband. Because he did not have any Advance Directive documents, I had to make choices for him when he was in a coma. Through my research (on artificial feeding, artificial life support, etc.), I was able to make decisions about what I wanted and created my own Advance Directive documents.

I invite you to do the same.

Here are just a few, simple first steps to get you started.

My hope is that this begins an exploration that you will be very satisfied you took, not only for yourself, but for those days when you are or will be a caregiver for someone else.

Susan’s Suggestions for First Steps:

1. Read through some information to get your bearings about this topic. I found these items to be most clear and helpful:

Brochure from the American Hospital Association – click here

Watch this short video.

Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania – click here

2. Carefully choose which document you want to complete. Most states accept a national form (linked here from the American Bar Association), but some states have special rules and it is best to use their forms.

Here are links to sample forms for those states OR you can find the form for every state here or here.

Know that these are legal documents that you would create for yourself. Most states require two witnesses to sign your documents and some states give the option of having it notarized or witnessed by two individuals. 

2. There are two main types of Advance Directive documents you will want to consider creating. Some samples shared, here, are one document that include both legal items together. 

  • A “healthcare power of attorney” (or “proxy” or “agent” or “surrogate”) are documents outline your desires so that a person you choose can be your voice if you cannot speak for yourself.
  • A “living will” is a document that outlines what kinds of medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life.

3. Put your documents in places where they can be found easily:

  • Download a wallet card that you can carry with you – download here.
  • Give a copy to the person you have asked to be your “proxy” or “surrogate”.
  • Give a copy to your financial advisor, insurance agent and attorney.
  • Give a copy to your primary care physician and keep one in your glove compartment with your driving documents.
  • You may want to have an extra copy that you can carry with you if you are going to the hospital for an elective procedure.

About @susanharkema

Susan is the creator of MyHealthVoice.com, built upon her 20+ years in healthcare and her experiences as a caregiver and patient. She is a writer, speaker and advocate for people living with chronic or life limiting illness as well as their family and professional caregivers. Learn more - www.myhealthvoice/susanharkema/.

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