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Klatt: Now is the time to begin advance care planning

April 16 is National Health Care Decisions Day


Every day, we make important health care decisions for ourselves, but what happens if we suffer a serious illness or medical emergency? April 16 is National Health care Decisions Day, right after Tax Day. It’s the perfect time to begin advance care planning.

What is an advance directive?

An advance directive makes your medical wishes clear. It contains legal written instructions that record what you want and don't want. This helps in case you are unable to tell others what you want during your time of need. It identifies someone as your representative – someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. It also communicates your health care preferences. Advance directives can be changed at any time and they never expire.

The person you choose as your health care agent is authorized to speak for you only if you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself.

Why is an advance directive so important?

It allows you to make a written plan regarding your health care preferences if or when you are unable to speak for yourself.
It permits you to state your choices ahead of time.
It lessens the burden on loved ones and gives them peace of mind.
It gives you more control over what happens to you during times of a medical crisis.
It prevents medical over-treatment or under-treatment.

Let’s dig a little deeper – What are some examples of the kind of information in an advance directive?

When you’re creating an advance directive, you can include instructions about any treatment you want or wish to avoid. You can spell out in an advance directive your preference regarding active treatment to fight disease. Active treatment to fight disease includes intensive treatment (the kind of high-technology care usually provided in hospitals’ intensive care units) and non-intensive treatment. Active treatments can include ventilators, kidney dialysis, and major surgery.

Non-intensive treatment includes things like antibiotics, blood transfusions and radiation.

Should I think about help for non-medical decisions, too?

Absolutely, whether with your primary care provider, or in a more specialized environment like hospice care, or just through open and frank conversations with your loved ones, you should absolutely make your wishes known ahead of time. Start laying out the plans for what you want to happen after you’ve passed away. Who do you want to oversee making those hard phone calls to family and loved ones? Are there letters you want to write or things you want to make sure are known? Who takes care of your pets? These topics may be difficult to talk about sometimes but are so important.

When is the best time to have these conversations?

We may tend to think that we don’t need to have these conversations if we’re young or aren’t experiencing any health issues. But it’s never too early to start planning for these difficult situations. In fact, it’s much better to make these plans before they’re actually needed, rather than find ourselves in a situation where difficult decisions need to be made, but no plans have been put in place.

Adults ages 65 and older who want more information on advance planning, including preparing an advance directive, can visit any Optum Community Center for free resources at optum.com/care/locations/arizona/optum-arizona/community-centers.html.