During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were faced with serious illness or a medical emergency that required vital decisions about their medical care, and sometimes those decisions couldn’t be made by the patient themselves. This has brought more awareness to the need for making advance directives.
National Healthcare Decisions Day, held each year on April 16, is an initiative to encourage people to make advance directives, or to discuss their wishes about future healthcare decisions and put them in writing, so that loved ones, providers and facilities are aware of them, so they can respect those wishes, whatever they may be. People can also specify about what life-sustaining treatments they do or do not wish to have.
“During a medical emergency or serious illness, you may not able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Designating a trusted healthcare agent who is aware of your wishes means you’ll have an advocate who can help speak on your behalf,” said Dr. Dominic Moore, a pediatric palliative care physician, with University of Utah Health and medical director of palliative care at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, UT who works with patients with serious illnesses.
“These are difficult, but very important conversations to have,” he added.
Dr. Moore says it’s a good idea to update or change your advance directives annually, or if one of the “four D’s” occurs:
- Diagnosis – you receive a serious diagnosis
- Deterioration – your health is declining
- Death of your designated healthcare agent
He reminds people it’s important to keep all the contact information for yourself and your healthcare agent up to date and check the legal requirements to complete the paperwork in the state where you live.
If you’re over 18, it’s a good idea to have advance directives in place. Once you make advance directives, share them with your loved ones, your healthcare provider and your hospital.
“Many patients wish they’d done advance care planning earlier. It’s always too early, until it’s too late,” he added.