No one plans to become sick or disabled. But what if you were to become incapacitated and unable to communicate? What if you were to lose the ability to make your own medical decisions? And what if you could no longer speak for yourself – who would speak for you?
It’s difficult to think about these issues. It’s scary to face one’s mortality. But even scarier? What if you don’t make your wishes known and then it’s too late? That’s why it’s so important to have something called an advance directive – also known as an advance care plan.
Advance care planning is a process, not an event, and it is planning for future care based on a person’s values, beliefs, preferences, and specific medical issues. An advance directive is the record of that process – a legal document that lets you spell out your healthcare decisions ahead of time. It ensures you get the medical care you want and avoid treatments you don’t want.
Advance directives go into effect when you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself. Who decides when you don’t have the ability to make these decisions? A healthcare professional.
Types of advance directives
Living Wills: Laws allow you to direct healthcare providers to withhold or withdraw treatment that is keeping you alive if you become terminally ill and are no longer able to make decisions.
Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare: This allows you to choose a surrogate decision maker like a relative or friend to make your medical decisions if you can no longer make them yourself. In some states, this power is also known as a healthcare proxy or healthcare declaration.
Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders (DNRs): This order instructs healthcare providers not to do CPR if you stop breathing or if your heart stops beating.
Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST): This portable medical order communicates your wishes as medical orders, so all healthcare providers during a medical emergency understand what you want.
The benefits of advance care planning
Research shows that having an advance directive can make a difference. According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it may improve quality of care, enhance care satisfaction, and reduce end-of-life healthcare spending. It may also lead to more personalized care honoring the individual’s wishes.
Advance care planning also means peace of mind. When your loved ones know they’re following your wishes, they can avoid unnecessary drama and family conflict – and experience less stress.
Talk to your primary care provider (PCP) about your advance care plan
You can discuss your end-of-life wishes with your trusted healthcare partner. Not only should your PCP be able to give you an advance directive, they have the medical knowledge to help you complete it.
Once you’ve completed your advance directive, tell close family members and friends where you keep a copy. And especially be sure to share a copy with your PCP and any specialists you see. This will help them to appropriately direct your care and avoid unwanted or overly aggressive treatments.