Advance care planning sounds like some new-fangled treatment you can get from your doctor. However, it’s a collection of important decisions you need to make to help doctors know how to treat you if you can’t communicate for yourself. Also, these decisions take the burden of having to make hard decisions off your family.
Sarah Payne, DO, is Banner Health’s director of palliative care and hospice. She spoke to us about the importance of advance care planning.
What is advance care planning?
If you’ve ever watched a medical drama on television, you’ve probably seen at least one episode where a family must make tough decisions about a dying loved one. Advance care planning can keep the family from having to make those tough decisions because they are already spelled out.
“Advance care planning is making your healthcare decisions be known, both in writing and by talking to family, friends and anyone who needs to know these decisions,” Dr. Payne said.
According to Dr. Payne, most plans should cover your advance directives, or end-of-life healthcare decisions, such as:
Beyond that is where advance care planning comes in. It includes things that you may want at the end of your life—certain music playing in your room, special foods, aromatherapy, hospice, and prayers at your bedside.
Technically, advance care planning is a legal document and should be treated as such. By creating one, it takes the tough decisions away from your loved ones, who may have trouble letting go. It keeps those decisions in your hands—even if you can’t make them.
How do you start?
Not many people really like the idea of thinking about his or her own mortality. However, it really should be a conversation you have with friends, family and anyone else you want to know your decisions. All it takes is a little bit of research to start.
Dr. Payne notes you can start planning at any time, and you don’t need to speak to a lawyer or a doctor.
“That being said, it’s helpful to chat with your doctor about it,” she said. “A lawyer can assist with things such as your will and powers of attorney.”
Remember, advance care planning does not replace a will, which explains what should happen to your property should you pass away. It can, however, include your will.
Dr. Payne also believes it is best to start advance care planning early and talk about it frequently with the people you want to know. She says two places to start research are the Conversation Project website and the National Healthcare Decisions Day website. You can find a lot of resources there, including tips on how to start the conversation with family and friends.
There are a lot of online resources you can choose from to help you with your advance care planning. One such option is Aging with Dignity’s Five Wishes, which Dr. Payne says lays things out very simply and is all-encompassing for medical and non-medical advance care planning.
Typically, planning time varies from person to person. A lot depends on how much thought you’ve given it before putting it into writing or chatting about it.
Advance care planning details
You may wonder who you should tell about your advance care planning wishes. Well, simply put, you should tell anyone you want to know, according to Dr. Payne. At the very least, be sure to tell whoever you designate to be your medical power of attorney.
It’s also a good idea to let your doctor know about your wishes early on, so he or she knows what you want before you are unable to tell them. Dr. Payne says you should give a copy of your wishes in writing to anyone you want to have them, but you should make sure your doctor and your medical power of attorney designee have copies. Additionally, check to see if your state has an advance directives registry, which allows you to scan your documents in to keep them on file.
Finally, Dr. Payne says it is time to start talking about your advance care plan now.
“Start early, have the conversation often and update it at least every five years or as health conditions change,” Dr. Payne said. “It’s never too early to start this.”