April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD). The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world how precious good health is and how quickly lives can be turned upside down by serious illness. Over the last two years, unexpected illness and the need for emergency medical care has increased in many communities. When a hospitalized person is severely ill or incapacitated, they cannot express their needs or wishes. Often, family members are left making difficult decisions about the care of their loved one with basic guidance. Not knowing a loved one’s healthcare wishes is an added burden that can be avoided with a simple conversation.
Advance care planning is not just about preparing for when you are older. A major medical crisis can happen at any age and leave a person unable to make their own healthcare decisions. That’s why it’s important for people to plan and communicate now for the medical care they want in the future.
National Healthcare Decisions Day is a time to highlight the importance of advance healthcare decision-making. On this day, people are encouraged to talk to their loved ones about health and life decisions such as living wills long-term care planning, end-of-life care and medical wishes. NHDD is an initiative of The Conversation Project. This project is a public engagement initiative of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and works to provide clear, concise and consistent information on healthcare decision-making.
Conversation about healthcare decisions
According to The Conversation Project, “While 92% of Americans say it’s important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, only 32% have had such a conversation.” Although it may be a difficult discussion, having a talk about your or a loved one’s wishes is one of the easiest ways to eliminate much of the uncertainty during times of medical crisis.
Initially, it may be helpful to focus on what kind of treatments are desired and what kind are not. It can also be beneficial to talk to a doctor about current health statuses, family history and conditions that might influence future health. A doctor can assist with outlining choices before initiating a conversation with loved ones.
Finally, a person should consider what makes life meaningful to them. For example, is quantity of life more important than quality of life or vice versa? These values are important to communicate to healthcare providers and loved ones. Other topics to consider could include:
- Immediate and future health concerns
- Personal and/or religious values about medical treatment or end-of-life care
- Choice of health care proxy. This is a designated person that makes healthcare decisions on another’s behalf.
- Preferred care setting (home, nursing home, hospital or hospice)
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Ventilator use
- Artificial nutrition (tube feeding) and artificial hydration (IV or intravenous fluids)
- Comfort care. Comfort care could include managing symptoms, pain relief and spiritual and emotional counseling.
Document your healthcare decisions
After a conversation about medical treatment desires, documents like a durable power of attorney and an Advance Directive can add legally-binding authority to those wishes. A durable power of attorney designates the proxy or person that will have the authority to make health care decisions. An Advance Directive details a person’s preferences about medical treatments and end-of-life care. Each state has its own Advance Directive documents, but the correct forms can be obtained from a healthcare provider, an attorney, the state health department and local medical or hospital associations.
The National Healthcare Decisions Day website features a variety of information for the public and healthcare providers to help make talking about medical decisions easy and productive. To learn more about National Healthcare Decisions Day and advance care planning, go to: at www.NHDD.org.