Today I am sharing an article about National Healthcare Decisions Day which is on April 16. I really feel like this is important information for all of us to have. (Disclosure: I have been compensated to share, but I feel strongly about this topic.) It may seem like a somber topic, but it is much easier to have the conversation now. This is for all adults, not just senior citizens. For those of you in the St. Louis, Missouri area be sure to check out Missouri Bar Associations help page for more information on durable power of attorney for healthcare and these topics.
By Dr. James Mittelberger
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day – A day set aside to encourage all of us to discuss important advance planning end of life health care wishes. It’s an opportunity to begin the process of documenting those wishes before a stressful health crisis arises.
It can be tough to get started. It may even feel a bit awkward, but powerful conversations with family members today can assure end-of-life preferences are honored and reduce stress and uncertainty in the future. Planning today can help ensure that your loved ones will receive the treatments they want, and avoid the care that they don’t want at the end of life.
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. You would start planning and reflecting on what you and your loved ones would want, expressing those desires and having the thoughtful conversation. After all, no one wants to be scrambling for paperwork, evaluating care choices or putting their families through uncertainty.
Here are simple steps to begin the conversation and planning for important end of life health care decisions:
· Start with your loved ones. Honest communication can help families avoid the stress of guessing what a family member would have wanted. You may find that you and your loved ones may see some things differently. That’s okay. Be open with each other and focus on really understanding the views of those you love.
· Think about what is most important to you. What are your greatest fears, hopes and goals? Who would you prefer to make decisions on your behalf with your physicians if you could not? How sure are you of your choices? Do you want your chosen proxy to have leeway to change your decisions? Discuss these topics with your loved ones to reach a shared understanding of your desires.
· Make it official. Once you’ve had the conversation, formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. There are several ways. 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 decisions or communicate your wishes.
This is something that takes time, but well worth it. I have seen firsthand the sense of peace, calm and satisfaction families experience knowing their loved ones wishes are granted giving you more precious and memorable time to spend with your loving family member.
Dr. James Mittelberger, is Chief Medical Officer of Optum Palliative and Hospice Care, who is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatrics, Hospice and Palliative Medicine. #PlanNowOptum
Have you had these conversations with your family? Did you put your wishes, and theirs, into writing? Feel free to share any tips or experiences you have on this subject in the comments also.