Communicating your healthcare wishes will ensure that you get the care you want.
Most of us dislike thinking about the possibility of an accident or illness impacting us, especially if something is severe enough to impact our ability to communicate our wishes for medical care.
While it can be difficult to think about these scenarios, when events do occur, circumstances are made even more challenging if you have not discussed and documented your wishes and preferences ahead of time.
The term “Advanced Care Planning” is often used to describe the process of learning your options for healthcare intervention, discussing your desires and letting others know your decisions. Let’s first outline the types of decisions that you might need to make:
- Emergency Care Decisions – If you did not have a pulse, would you want to have CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation); if you were having difficulty breathing, would you want a ventilator used (a machine that breathes for you); if you could not take food and water normally, would you want artificial nutrition and hydration (such as a feeding tube) given? Generally, these measures are implemented temporarily until you recover from your illness or injury.
- End-of-Life Care Decisions – This relates to your desired level of medical care if you are unable to communicate and your doctor has determined that you are terminally ill and will not recover. In this situation, would you want aggressive interventions, such as a long-term ventilator or feeding tube to be used or would you want simply to receive comfort care?
- Choosing a Healthcare Agent – You can choose someone you trust to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make those decisions for yourself.
After determining your preferences, you need to make your wishes known. There are typically two main components to an Advanced Directive–a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.
Living Will – A Living Will goes into effect if you are unable to communicate your wishes and a physician has determined you will not recover. In the living will, you specify in writing what treatment you do and do not want, and under these conditions.
Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare – A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare names someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot communicate and are unable to make decisions for yourself.
Other Documents – If you or a loved one is in poor health and has a clear preference for no Emergency Care, such as not wanting CPR or a breathing tube under any circumstance, you may also want to consider completing a POST (Physician’s Order for Scope of Treatment) form with your physician. A POST allows you to obtain a doctor’s order for a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) status, if you do not want to have CPR to restart your heart, or other interventions, to keep you alive.
We recommend that everyone complete a Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare while they are competent and capable of communicating their wishes clearly. Often when a crisis strikes, you may not be able to communicate your preferences and your physicians and family members are left with the decision-making burden. Completing these documents allows you to clearly communicate your wishes, and also provides a gift for your family members to alleviate their distress and know they are acting according to your wishes in difficult times.
We are here to help if you have questions, would like assistance with understanding more about this process or preparing these documents, or need additional information or referrals to resources in your community.
Tom Packer is an Elder Law Attorney serving all of Southeast Idaho. As part of his law practice, Tom offers Life Care Planning to deal with the challenges created by long-term illness, disability and incapacity. If you have a question about a Senior’s legal, financial or healthcare needs, please call us.