April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day

National Healthcare Decisions Day takes place April 16 each year. This day exists to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning. This and every year Covenant reminds people of the importance of making your choices known to your loved ones.

Considering the state of the nation with the coronavirus pandemic, many people may be experiencing added stress and uncertainty related to concerns with your own health or the health of others close to you. During this time, one thing you can control is who speaks for you if you cannot speak for yourself. The information below is intended to help ease this stress and uncertainty, by providing education about Advance Care Planning and to offer free resources to individuals who would like to get started on creating a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOA-HC), otherwise known as an Advance Directive.

Advance Care Planning (ACP) is communication focused on planning for future healthcare decisions and how one’s wishes would be communicated if they were unable to speak for themselves – such as designating a person to speak for them. In our society, this communication is often avoided until a crisis occurs, which often adds additional stress to the conversation. This conversation generally involves creating an Advance Directive.

Having conversations early on regarding future healthcare wishes generally eases stress for all parties involved when someone’s health condition becomes serious. The majority of people who have had this conversation with their loved ones are thankful, as they now feel their wishes are more likely to be honored. Conversations also provide comfort to family members as they now are more confident that they are making decisions their loved one would have wanted. Including your healthcare provider and creating a written plan – such as an Advance Directive also helps your healthcare team have a better understanding of your wishes.

An Advance Directive is a legal document that includes the designation of someone you would like to make decisions for you if you could not (this person is called a patient advocate) and/or include treatment preferences. There are two types of Advance Directives – a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOA-HC). It is important to know your state-specific requirements for Advance Directives, as there are differences in many states. For instance, in Michigan, a Living Will is not legally recognized and patient advocate acceptance signatures are required. It is also important to note that this document is different than a General Power of Attorney which is a document focused on financial decisions. It is important to know an Advance Directive is considered a legal document, but certain wishes such as Do Not Resuscitate will require a physician’s order for your wishes to be honored in certain scenarios.

If you already have an Advance Directive, take time to review the document to see if it still meets your needs. This would be a good time to update any addresses or phone numbers in the document by placing one line through the old information and adding the new information above or off to the side. If one of your designated patient advocates is deceased, this information should be added to the document as well. If updates are made or your document is not on file with your primary care physician and the hospital you are most likely to be treated at, call to see what steps should be taken to make sure this is available.

If you are a patient advocate for someone, now is the time to talk to that person about their treatment preferences. If the person you may be making decisions for has underlying medical conditions, learn about how COVID-19 complications may affect their perspectives on the benefits and burdens of treatment in context of their illness.

Covenant HealthCare realizes talking about serious illness can be difficult, especially in these uncertain times. We also realize the benefits of having a conversation early – making sure one’s wishes are honored. You may also think of these conversations as a gift to those close to you, as knowing your wishes will likely be a great comfort to them and they will not have to question if they are making decisions you may or may not have wanted.

To get started with your plans, Covenant offers free resources to anyone in the community who is interested in learning more about this topic or would like to start creating a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Please visit our website to learn more or call us at 989.583.6292 to speak with one of our Respecting Choices certified ACP facilitators.

Additional resources available online at www.covenanthealthcare.com/acp.