Denise T. Mohess, MD, is a member of Inova Medical Group and is medical director for Inova’s Advanced Illness and Geriatric Program. She is board certified in internal medicine, geriatric medicine and hospice and palliative medicine. Read Dr. Mohess’s profile.
If you’re like most people, you have opinions about how you’d like to be cared for in a medical emergency or at the end of your life. But if you’re like most people, you haven’t done enough to share those wishes.
Ninety percent of people say talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, according to a survey by The Conversation Project, an organization that helps people plan for end-of-life care and the sponsor of National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16. Yet only 27 percent of people have actually done it.
But it’s not too late to get started. Here’s what you need to know about creating an advance healthcare directive.
What is an Advance Directive?
An advance directive is a document with 2 important components:
- It identifies a person you can rely on to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.
- It describes how you would like to be cared for in the event of a serious injury or illness.
For instance, an advance directive might describe your wishes about whether you’d want to receive treatments, such as artificial hydration and nutrition or advanced life support.
Who Should Create an Advance Directive?
Often, people think that an advance directive is something they can put off until they get older. In fact, we encourage everyone age 18 and up to make their healthcare wishes official.
Accidents and illnesses can strike without warning. Making decisions about end-of-life care is difficult to do during a crisis. It’s much easier to start the process when you’re in good health and thinking clearly.
Start With a Conversation
An advance directive is sometimes called a living will. But you don’t have to hire a lawyer to create one for you.
Many free and inexpensive advance directives are available online. Inova provides free downloadable advance directives for patients in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.
These documents can serve as your guide. But before you start filling in the blanks, it’s a good idea to start with some conversations:
- Talk to your loved ones about what quality of life means to you. Discuss what medical treatments are consistent with your values, and which treatments you would or would not want in the event of a serious injury or illness.
- Ask a family member, friend, pastor or other trusted person if he or she is willing to make medical decisions for you if you aren’t able make them on your own.
- Talk to your primary care doctor or other trusted healthcare provider about creating an advance directive. They can help you understand medical treatment options and the situations in which they might be used.
Peace of Mind
After you complete your advance directive, make sure to share it with your medical providers so they can keep a copy in your files. Also share copies with your loved ones so they will be prepared in case of emergency. The document won’t do any good if it’s locked in a safe where no one can find it.
Discussing end-of-life care can be difficult, but avoiding the subject won’t make it easier. Having these conversations early will help bring peace of mind to you and the people you love.
Learn more about making end-of-life healthcare decisions.