Planning for the end of our lives isn’t something we should put off until our dying day. It’s something we should think about as part of preparing for the future. “We never know when something may happen that means we won’t be able to make our own decisions,” says Karen Renken, advance care program coordinator at OSF HealthCare. “We need to make these conversations more of the norm, instead of a taboo or an uncomfortable topic.”
Everyone should think of advance care planning as a gift we give our family when we’re faced with difficult decisions. “I don’t want any family to have to guess—or be even more stressed or worried about not knowing what decisions to make,” Renken adds.
What is Advance Care Planning?
Advance care planning makes a record of your values, beliefs and personal preferences. The process consists of two parts: designating a power of attorney for healthcare and creating a discussion record.
Designating a power of attorney (POA) for healthcare is the legal process of selecting a person to make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t make decisions for yourself. This person is usually a spouse or adult child, but you can choose anybody you feel could make the decisions that you would want.
The discussion record is a more in-depth document that includes specific information about your wishes for end-of-life care. It will be part of your electronic medical record and should be provided to the person you’ve selected as your POA.
“The discussion record shows what you would want in terms of spiritual care, pain control and life-prolonging treatments,” notes Renken. “It also includes what brings you joy and happiness and what makes you feel comfortable.” It can include anything—such as a favorite hymn you’d like to hear in your final moments.
How to Get Started
The simplest way to begin advance care planning is to bring it up with your primary care office. Many OSF Medical Group offices have an advance care planning facilitator on staff—usually a nurse, social worker, care manager or APRN—who has been specially trained to guide you through the process. If your primary care office doesn’t have a facilitator, they should be well-equipped to connect you with one. The facilitator will take you through a series of questions and scenarios to help articulate your values, preferences and wishes, and document them.
“We encourage as many family members as the person wants to have present during that conversation,” Renken says. “If their family is not present, we make sure the person leaves with copies. We encourage them to not just hand the documents over to the decision-maker, but to sit down and have a discussion with them.”
When to Begin
Anyone over the age of 18 should consider advanced care planning, Renken explains. “Completing advance care planning takes out the guessing and lessens the worry and the stress of making these important decisions.” PM