To twist a familiar expression attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except life and taxes.” I only wish people would put as much effort into planning for their future health care needs as they do on their annual tax returns.
Advance care planning is not about the end. It’s about having heart-to-heart conversations with our loved ones and talking about our values, priorities and wishes. It’s about documenting those wishes in an advance directive and sharing that with friends, family and health care providers so that we will get the care we want should we not be able to speak for ourselves. It’s about giving a gift to our loved ones who will know what’s important to us long before we ever face a serious illness or medical emergency.
All forms of advance directives — which can include a living will, health care proxy or health care power of attorney, or even a Physicians Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment or Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form from our physician — are tools one can use to make health care preferences known and help ensure we get the care we want.
These conversations and an advance directive do not have to be done in a lawyer’s office, but can take place around the kitchen table or in the family room, during calm times that aren’t in the midst of a health care crisis.
A recent bipartisan report from the Aspen Health Strategy Group, “Improving Care at the End of Life,” offers five big ideas to improve care during this challenging time and help take away some of the fear about having these important conversations. I particularly support their concept of “building the development and updating of an advance care plan into the fabric of life.” This includes the integration of advance directives and planning tools into smart phones, and utilizing employee on-boarding and insurance sign-up periods to provide advance planning tools that allow individuals to execute an advance directive.
I would like these conversations to be part of a person’s annual physical or a natural step when applying for insurance or starting a new job. Even a birthday or annual event like Thanksgiving can be a time to talk and make these conversations part of our family routine. And, yes, even the tax season can be a good time to have conversations about our health care wishes.
Like taxes, these conversations can be difficult to begin but once we have, we’ve already gotten over the biggest hurdle.