Advance Care Planning—Making Your Wishes Known

Guest post by Ken Kephart, MD

Life can change in an instant—we know it, but it’s hard to imagine. And that makes planning for the unexpected—such as suddenly being unable to communicate—seem unnecessary. Fact is, more than half the time, people are unable to communicate their wishes during their last six months of life.

Preparation is important—for yourself, your loved ones and your health care team. That’s where advance care planning comes in. The goal is to decide whom you want to speak for you if you are unable, to talk about scenarios with your loved ones and, ultimately, to write down your wishes and share them with your doctor.

Facing the future

It’s much better to face the initial discomfort of talking about possible situations ahead of time rather than waiting until you are in the middle of a medical crisis where family members are forced to guess your preferences and wishes.

Advance care planning is a gift to your family. If and when a medical crisis strikes, think about how much easier it will be for your loved ones and caregivers to be able to say “We talked about this. I know what she wants,” instead of having to guess.

Research tells us that many people think about their wishes but never take the next steps—they don’t talk about the type of care they would want or write it down in a health care directive. We also know that, of the people who do talk about and write down their wishes, only a few share their preferences with their doctors.

It’s always too soon until it’s too late.

Start the process

Advance Care Planning is for anyone 18 and older. If you are ready to begin:

  • Learn more. Go to Honoring Choices Minnesota for background, resources and a health care directive that meets all Minnesota statutory requirements. There’s even a one-page, short-form version. Consider attending a free, 90-minute educational session on health care directives. Fairview’s facilitators can help you begin the conversations and develop an advance care plan or complete a health care directive at no cost to you.
  • Talk with your loved ones. Think carefully about whom you want to name as your Agent (legally appointed surrogate decision-maker). Share your thoughts and fears, ask if they are willing and able to take on the role of Agent and review the directive together.
  • Pick up the phone. Call your clinic to request an appointment to discuss your advance care plan. Every health system will have a slightly different way of processing that request, but it’s important that you share your directive with your provider. Ask for input on any questions you have or situations you are unsure about. Listen to their guidance about how best to describe your thoughts and wishes. And remember to leave a copy with them to be added to your medical record.

An unexpected illness or injury may cause you to be unable to participate in important treatment decisions.

I encourage you to make your voice heard in the care you want to receive.

Ken Kephart is medical director for Fairview Geriatric Services, Fairview Partners and Fairview Senior Services and lead physician for the Honoring Choices Minnesota advance care planning project within Fairview Health Network.

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