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Advance Care Planning: Preparing for Life’s “What Ifs”

Advance Care Planning: Preparing for Life’s “What Ifs”

March 23, 2022

A serious illness, injury or accident can occur at any stage of life. While most of us would prefer to avoid thinking of what would happen if we or a loved one were in a medical crisis, it’s important for people of all ages to plan for medical care in the event they are suddenly unable to speak for themselves.

The advance care planning process

Advance care planning is not a single decision. It is a process that takes place over time as a patient’s health condition and goals change. Steps in the advance care planning process include:

· Thinking about your wishes and what person or people you would want to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself.

· Choosing a health care proxy you trust and feel comfortable with to make medical decisions for you.

· Having meaningful discussions with your health care proxy, providers and loved ones about your treatment preferences and goals for future care. Some examples of important questions to consider are:

o Where would you like to receive care?

o What tests and procedures would you want? Which would you not want?

o Is your main desire to have the most days of life? Or would your focus be on a higher quality of life?

o If you are in pain at the end of life, would you want medication to help control it?

· Completing written legal documents, including an advance directive and a Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form.

o An advance directive is a legal document that allows you to spell out your preferences for health care and select the individual who will be your health care proxy.

o A POLST form is a physician’s order your provider completes and you sign that specifies the types of medical treatment you want or do not want to receive in keeping with the preferences you express in your advance directive.

· Review these documents periodically to make sure contact information and health care wishes haven’t changed.

Discussions with your doctor

If you are covered by Medicare, you pay nothing for voluntary advance care planning as part of your yearly wellness visit. When you make an appointment, let the staff know you wish to discuss advance care planning. Since these appointments are typically longer than other office visits, your doctor will likely want to schedule more time together to review your goals and any questions or concerns you may have regarding your future medical care.