April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day

In a time of serious illness, health care decisions must be made carefully and thoughtfully. Our experience at Hope has shown us that these decisions are extremely difficult in a moment of crisis, whether they are being made by the person in life’s final chapter or by their loved ones.

It is heartbreaking to see family members struggle to make choices when their loved one can no longer respond. “What should we do now?” is a question asked in despair that we have heard many times.

Questions such as this are best discussed well ahead of the time of need, making difficult choices easier. One useful document that Hope makes available for advance care planning is Five Wishes, which Hope makes available to patients and their families. It is a living will that addresses the patient’s personal, emotional and spiritual needs as well as their medical wishes. Using the simple forms, the patient can name a health care surrogate and make choices regarding life support.

Anyone could be affected by a life-changing illness at any time. Whether you are 21 or 91, these documents can help to insure that your health care choices and decisions are honored if you become unable to speak for yourself.

Advance care planning involves:

  • Understanding the patient’s future health care choices
  • Thinking about choices in light of what is important to the patient and family in regard to their values and beliefs
  • Discussing those decisions with physicians and loved ones
  • Preparing written documents to make the patient’s choices known

Research has shown that advance discussion about these issues results in a higher quality of life for patients and their caregivers. In one study, thirty-seven percent of the patients interviewed said they had end-of-life discussions with their physician, and a number of specific benefits were noted:

  • No increase in their rates of depression or worry
  • Lower rates of ventilation and resuscitation
  • Fewer admissions to the intensive care unit

Health benefits such as these bring peace of mind to the patients’ loved ones. For that reason, the most often-heard comment from families in our care is, “We wish we had known about hospice earlier.” By having these conversations, everyone can become more aware of the care that will be available at the moment it is actually needed. Decision-making will be easier.

Discussion about preparing for future health care needs and wishes with patients who have a life-changing illness provides a gift of time and peace of mind by allowing for resolution. It gives the patient time to make choices regarding care while still able to communicate.

The ongoing debate over healthcare reform has made it quite clear that America’s families need accurate reliable information about advance care planning in order to make informed choices before the time of need. Now more than ever, people need information about preparing for their future health care needs and wishes.

April 16, National Healthcare Decisions Day, is a time to raise public awareness and inform others about the necessity of advance care planning. The effort is supported by Hope and other healthcare organizations, along with the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association. An essential part of Hope’s outreach efforts is to clearly explain advance care planning and to stress the value it to the patient and family members. Honoring each persons wishes and choices have always been integral to the Hope philosophy of care.

At Hope, we will continue to provide accurate information to help everyone understand the value and importance of advance care planning. It can make a significant difference.

Please visit HopeHCS.org/fivewishes