Advance care planning begins with an advance health care directive, or living will. This is a legal document in which a person states how their health care should be managed if they are unable to make decisions for themselves. Most people are confused about how to write them and how they will be used. These tips can help you get the most out of your advance directive.
1. It’s really about the conversation.
You should write an advance directive when you are healthy. You don’t know when it will be needed, so write it now. Afterwards, if you should become incapacitated, you doctors and your selected Health Care Agent (also known as your Medical Power of Attorney) will apply your statements in order to make decisions about your medical care. This is why we all need to talk with the people who are close to us about our values, and, if we have a serious illness, about our own hopes and fears.
2. Make an appointment with your doctor.
In 2016, Medicare approved Advance Care Planning as a billable service, so it is a covered benefit. In your doctor’s practice, Advance Care Planning sessions may be with your doctor or with a staff member with specialized training. Take advantage of this opportunity to ask questions about end-of-life treatments, and what to expect if you have complications related to your diagnosis. Health care providers can feel as uncomfortable as we do about starting the conversation, so don’t hesitate to ask your questions.
3. Choose your Health Care Agent wisely.
The right person is not always your closest relative. Choose someone who understands you, will honor your decisions, and won’t be overwhelmed by talking to doctors at a difficult time. Then speak with those close to you about how you want them to be involved and who you have chosen as your agent.
Advance directive forms are available from many sources, and do not require the assistance of a lawyer. They can be changed at any time. Don’t forget the important step of filing your advance directive with you doctor and your hospital. You can find more information by visiting www.virginiaadvancedirectives.org.