April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), and is a reminder of the importance of healthcare planning and the need for an advance healthcare directive. Planning ahead and communicating our healthcare preferences allows us to take control of our healthcare needs and ensure that our wishes are honored, even in end-of-life care.
What is an Advance Healthcare Directive?
An Advance Healthcare Directive (“AHCD”) is a legal document that specifies your healthcare wishes. It allows you to choose an agent to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. An AHCD also allows you to make end-of-life choices and specify whether or not you want to donate your organs.
Why is it Important to Have a Healthcare Directive?
If you become incapacitated and don’t have an AHCD, no one can make healthcare decisions for you. This can cause confusion, stress, and conflict among family members and could result in expensive court battles. By having a healthcare directive, you can ensure that your wishes are respected and that your loved ones can make decisions on your behalf.
Only One in Three Americans Have an Advance HealthCare Directive
Why do we need a National Healthcare Decisions Day? Because less than one-third of all Americans over the age of 18 have completed this vital document.
People avoid talking about death and incapacity like the plague. Jerry Seinfeld had a joke about people being more afraid of public speaking than death: They’d rather be the person in the coffin than the one giving the eulogy. The same is true for planning. Most people avoid having a few ‘challenging’ conversations about natural parts of our life cycles despite knowing it will create an expensive, chaotic mess for their loved ones. Rationally it is absurd, but we are rarely rational about such emotionally charged topics. That is, until we must face them.
Not Even Hospitals Are Encouraging People to Complete Directives
I was recently contacted by a couple because one was diagnosed with cancer. They had talked for years about getting a plan in place (“ever since our 14-year-old was born”), but it took this shock to get them to finally act.
In our initial conversation, I learned they did not have AHCDs. (It’s worth noting that I don’t tell everyone I meet that they should have an estate plan, but I do tell just about anyone who will listen that he or she needs to have an AHCD – even the woman who helped me at the DMV!)
Time was of the essence for this couple, so I offered a link to our website where they could download and complete their directive immediately. We offer a few different versions including the state’s statutory version and a few from local hospitals. I asked if he was being treated at a local hospital because we may offer their version, and indeed he was a patient at one of the country’s premier medical centers. That is, a leading medical center that failed to mention completing an AHCD.
Why Are Health Care Directives So Rare?
This particular medical group even offers their own branded version, and still, no one they met with –from reception and scheduling through nurses and physicians — thought to bring it up? If it doesn’t come up in a situation like this, when will it come up?
We don’t like to talk about or even think about our own mortality – it’s almost forbidden in our society. So, it stands to reason that the document available to help us plan for end-of-life situations will also be taboo.
But are there more personal, intimate decisions you will ever make than your end-of-life decisions? Isn’t this the one time in your life you absolutely want to be heard and have your wishes respected? Medical science has extended life capabilities far beyond what our own bodies can provide, but is that living? That’s up to you. Quality of life is in the eye of the beholder. Can you think of anything that would give you more peace of mind outside of knowing you will be dying with dignity?
Empowering Our Loved Ones
Planning for our future healthcare needs not only gives us peace of mind but also empowers our loved ones to make informed decisions on our behalf. By communicating our wishes and designating someone to make medical decisions on our behalf, we give our loved ones the tools to advocate for us and ensure that our wishes are respected. And, if we’ve talked to our loved ones and caregivers, we also make sure that everyone is on the same page — our page. These are emotional times for families, and if they are together on a united front, these dark days can bring them closer together rather than into life-long family feuds.
The Conversation Project
One of the ways to approach these difficult conversations is through The Conversation Project, an initiative that provides resources and tools to help people have important discussions about their healthcare wishes. As proud Champions of The Conversation Project, we share their Conversation Starter Guide with all our clients. It is a tool that can help you communicate your wishes to loved ones, caregivers, and healthcare providers.
Making Informed Decisions
National Healthcare Decisions Day is a reminder that we all have the right to make informed decisions about our healthcare. By planning ahead and communicating our wishes, we take control of our healthcare needs and ensure that our wishes are heard. It’s never too early or too late to start planning for the future, and National Healthcare Decisions Day is the perfect time to take that first step.