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DANVILLE, PA – Thinking about the end of your life is difficult and may even seem morbid. It’s natural to not want to think too long or too hard about death. But the unfortunate reality is that traumatic accidents and life-threatening illnesses happen and can sometimes leave you unable to communicate your own wishes and preferences for your treatment and care.

For that reason alone, it’s critically important to plan ahead, for both the unexpected and the inevitable – particularly during November’s National Family Caregivers Month.

“While you’re still able to make decisions about your medical and end-of-life care, you can tell your family, friends and health care professionals what goals you would want for your care,” said Greg Burke (right), M.D., chief patient experience officer for Geisinger Health System.

That’s advance care planning – in conjunction with your physicians or advance practitioners, you project forward into the future and together make the tough decisions now about the care you would want then — in the future, when you may not be able to speak for yourself.

“Although you may not want think you’ll ever need such a plan, the lack of advance care planning can lead to confusion, questioning or even disagreement among loved ones trying to figure out what you’d want if you’re unable to speak for yourself,” Dr. Burke said.

Advance care planning includes:

  •  Learning about the types of life-sustaining treatments that would or would not be effective or beneficial in a range of circumstances;
  •  Deciding what type of care and treatment you would want or wouldn’t want in the event that you lose the capacity to participate in health care decision making and your illness advances;
  •  Communicating and sharing your values, wishes and preferences with loved ones.

“Advance care planning may also include completing advance directives — a durable power of attorney for health care or a living will,” Dr. Burke said. “A durable power of attorney for health care is the legal tool you use to appoint a trusted loved one to be your surrogate or proxy decision maker — that person who will step in and work with health care professionals to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you lose the ability to do so for yourself. His or her job is to ensure that your values, your goals, your preferences shape decisions about treatment and care.

After you complete an advance directive, you share copies of it with your health care proxy, your health care professionals, your hospital and anyone else you think should have that information.

“Effective advance care planning and a completed advance directive can give you the comfort of knowing that your wishes and preferences are known and much more likely to be followed,” Dr. Burke said.

“In addition, having conversations about your wishes and committing wishes to writing can be of enormous help to your loved ones and your health care professionals—all of whom would be spared the confusion or uncertainty of not knowing what you would want. Instead, they would have the ability to do the right thing on your behalf.”

“Advance care planning and advance directives can’t insulate us against the pain and grief of dying and death, but they can bring everyone involved a large measure of comfort and peace of mind,” he said.

About Geisinger
Geisinger is committed to making better health easier for the more than 1 million people it serves. Founded more than 100 years ago by Abigail Geisinger, the system now includes 10 hospital campuses, a health plan with more than half a million members, a research institute and the Geisinger College of Health Sciences, which includes schools of medicine, nursing and graduate education. With more than 25,000 employees and 1,700+ employed physicians, Geisinger boosts its hometown economies in Pennsylvania by billions of dollars annually. Learn more at or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.