During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people, were faced with serious illness or a medical emergency that required vital decisions about their medical care, and sometimes those decisions couldn’t be made by the patient themselves. This has brought awareness to the need for making an advance directive.
National Healthcare Decisions Day, is an initiative held annually on April 16, to encourage people to make an advance directive and to discuss their wishes about future healthcare decisions and put them in writing. This helps loved ones, providers and facilities be aware of and respect those wishes. People can specify what life-sustaining treatments they do or do not wish to have. Tax season is a great time to think about getting all personal documents in order.
“Designating a trusted healthcare agent who is aware of your wishes is an important part of an advanced directive. Doing this means you’ll have an advocate who can speak on your behalf about medical decisions when you’re too ill to do that yourself,” said Elise Fazio, DO, a palliative care physician and associate medical director for acute palliative care at Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, UT.
“Filling out an advance directive form makes it official, but it’s also very important to have a conversation with your healthcare agent and other loved ones, so they all know who has been designated and they understand your values and what quality of life is important to you,” she added.
Physicians who care for seriously ill patients say advance directives are important for anyone over age 18 and even younger, if they have a serious chronic condition. They agree these are difficult, but very important conversations to have.
Advance directives paint a picture, so others can make decisions about questions that are hard to anticipate in advance. It’s difficult to anticipate all the scenarios.
“An advanced directive is a gift to your loved ones so they know what your wishes may be if you become incapacitated. It’s homework for the future. The better that you can prepare for the future with your loved ones, the better,” said Dr. Fazio.
Dr. Fazio says it’s a good idea to update advance directives annually, or if one of the “four D’s” occurs:
Keep all your information up to date and check the legal requirements for paperwork in the state where you live. Advance directive forms can be completed online, on paper, at home or in the doctor’s office or hospital.
“It’s always too early, until it’s too late,” said Dr. Fazio.
For more information visit IntermountainHealth.org or National Healthcare Decisions Day for state-specific requirements. Advance directive forms for Utah in English and Spanish can be found on the Intermountain advance directives webpage, the Intermountain patient portal, My Health+ or here