Most people know that April 15 is 'Tax Day'—the day taxes are due to the IRS. But many don't realize that April 16 is a day just as important. It's National Healthcare Decisions Day, a day that highlights the importance of letting healthcare providers, family and friends know what measures you want taken—or don't want taken—at the end of your life.
National Healthcare Decisions Day is a collaborative effort between national, state and local community organizations to be sure that all adults have the resources they need to communicate their wishes about future healthcare decisions. These decisions are usually communicated through a legal document called an Advance Directive. More commonly, many people refer to an Advance Directive as a Living Will.
"We call the document an Advance Directive because it's a way to let your family and doctors know in advance about the kinds of medical treatments you would want if you cannot communicate your wishes," explains Beth Chadwell, Director of Risk Management and member of the Ethics Committee at Augusta Health. "During difficult and stressful times, you don't want others to have to guess what your thoughts or feelings are. The Advance Directive can clearly define what treatments you want under what circumstances.
"For example, if you have been diagnosed with a terminal condition or enter a progressive vegetative state because of an injury, you may wish to refuse certain medical treatments that might have been desired under other circumstances," adds Chadwell. "The Advance Directive can express your wishes when you are not able to."
An Advance Directive also allows you to appoint a specific individual (called a healthcare proxy) to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to communicate these decisions yourself.
"It's important to remember that planning for medical decisions and Advance Directives shouldn't start with the form or a document, but should start with a conversation," says Chadwell. "You need to speak with your doctors and other professionals to gather the information you need to decide which treatments you would choose, and which you would not, under various situations. Then you need to speak with your clergy, family and friends about those decisions and let them know how you feel. While these are difficult conversations, they are necessary conversations."
Chadwell adds that once medical decisions have been documented in an Advance Directive, it's important to share copies of the document with doctors, hospitals and family members who may be there when the Advance Directive is needed.
While all adults should have an Advance Directive and the conversations that precede writing the document, only one-third of adults in the United States have written one. According to our most recent Community Health Needs Assessment, we are locally ahead of the national rate—44% of adults in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County have an Advance Directive—but still short of the ideal goal of 100%. And while 76% of local people over the age of 65 have an Advance Directive, the numbers are much lower for younger adults. An Advance Directive is needed for all adults, though, because an injury or accident can happen at any age.
As National Healthcare Decisions Day approaches, it's time to start some Advance Planning if you have not already discussed your wishes with you doctor and family. Visit our Advance Directive page for more info. Download a simplified Virginia Advance Medical Directive or Simplified Virginia Advance Medical Directive with Mental Health Provisions.
For more information or assistance with making an Advance Directive, speak with your doctor, your lawyer, or call Augusta Health's Patient Relations Coordinator Lorrie Dean at (540) 332-4893