The importance of advance care planning
Communicating your wishes and goals for your care
While it's inevitable that one day we will no longer be alive, it's something no one likes to consider.
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, often unexpectedly, and can leave you unable to communicate your own wishes and preferences for your treatment and care. For that reason alone, it's crucial to plan ahead for both the unexpected and the inevitable.
While you're still able to make decisions about your medical and end-of-life care, it's important to tell your family, friends and healthcare team what goals you want for your care.
This is called advance care planning — along with your doctors or care team, you think toward the future, and together make the tough decisions now about the care you would want then, should you not be able to communicate your needs.
Although you may not think you'll ever need such a plan, planning can help avoid confusion, questioning or even disagreement among loved ones trying to figure out what you'd want if you're unable to speak for yourself.
What is advance care planning?
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 or wouldn't want in the event that you're unable to participate in healthcare decision-making
- Communicating and sharing your values, wishes and preferences with your loved ones
Advance care planning may also include completing advance directives — such as a durable power of attorney (POA) for healthcare or a living will. A durable POA for healthcare is the legal tool that appoints a trusted loved one to be your surrogate or proxy decision-maker — that person who will step in and work with your healthcare team to make decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to do so. His or her job is to ensure that your values, goals, preferences and wishes shape the decisions about your treatment and care.
After you complete an advance directive, you'll share copies of it with your healthcare proxy, your healthcare team, your hospital and anyone else you think should have that information.
Despite what can be an initially uncomfortable conversation, effective advance care planning and a completed advance directive can give you peace of mind knowing your wishes and preferences are known and much more likely to be followed.
In addition, having conversations about your wishes and committing wishes to writing can be an enormous help to your loved ones and your healthcare team — all of whom are spared the confusion or uncertainty of not knowing what you would want. Instead, they'll have the ability to choose what's right on your behalf.
Advance care planning and advance directives can't insulate us or our loved ones against the pain and grief of dying and death, but they can bring everyone involved a large measure of comfort and peace of mind.
Learn more about advance directives
Connect with our advance care planning team