When it comes to conversations about health, health communicators know that some topics are easier to broach than others. End-of-life care, advance directives, living will. Call it what you want, but advanced planning for health care usually involves a conversation that rivals “the talk.” Nevertheless, it’s an important conversation that should happen—first in living rooms with loved ones and then in doctor’s offices with care providers who can help you work through the details.
This necessary conversation is the focus of National HealthCare Decisions Day (NHDD), a day meant to “educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advanced care planning.” NHDD is celebrated next week, on April 16. The goal is to ensure that patients make decisions about end-of-life care and that those decisions are honored by health care providers and health care facilities.
Advance directives help guide medical decisions when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. This document can be executed by someone you appoint as a decision maker on your behalf (a medical or health care proxy). Advance directives are legally valid in the United States and can help take the burden off of loved ones regarding end-of-life care decision.
However, according to a survey conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, fewer than 50 percent of severely or terminally ill patients had an advance directive. Of those who did have an advance directive, only 12 percent had gotten any input from their physician. This is a troubling statistic for a number of reasons, namely being that providing care to your patients means also talking to them about not-so-easy subjects like advance directives.
What can we do?
According to the Federal Patient Self-Determination Act, all health care facilities are required to:
- Provide information about health care decision-making rights.
- Ask all patients if they have an advance directive.
- Educate their staff and community about advance directives.
- Not discriminate against patients based on an advance directive status.
But overwhelmingly, it seems that many people are simply unaware of what an advance directive is and how it can and should be used. That’s where health communicators come in. There are too few education initiatives aimed at raising awareness of this highly important topic. That’s why NHDD established what it describes as an open and collaborative environment designed to help spread the word and provided much needed education to the public.
Although there’s only a week left until the official day, it’s never a “bad” time to have this conversation with your patients. Encourage them to talk to their loved ones and make decisions together. If you’re interested in future events and becoming a participating organization or creating an awareness event, you can find more information on the NHDD website. Individuals are encouraged to sign up as “State Liaisons.” All events, no matter the size, are welcomed and supported.