If you are anything like me, there are likely many tasks on your to-do list that you keep putting off. Maybe you are procrastinating because you know certain things do not have to be completed urgently. Perhaps the task you are putting off is unpleasant, and even though you know it needs to be done, you do everything you can to avoid it. Or possibly you don’t even know where to start when faced with a project you have never worked on before, and this is the reason for your hesitation.
Having a conversation with our loved ones about our healthcare wishes often falls into one of these categories. When we are healthy, a conversation about future sickness and how we want to be treated at the end of our lives often seems non-urgent and sometimes even morbid. Many people avoid these topics of conversation because they can feel unpleasant to talk about, and often it can be difficult to know where to even start when you want to have this conversation with a loved one.
The theme of this year’s National Healthcare Decisions Day is “It always seems too early, until it’s too late.” This initiative is designed to help empower people to discuss their healthcare wishes with their loved ones. Even though healthcare and end-of-life wishes can seem difficult to discuss, having these conversations with those who care about us is one of the most loving things we can do because it can take the burden of tough decision-making off of our family or friends. It is also vitally important for your healthcare wishes to be documented so that your healthcare team knows just how to treat you and whom to speak to if you are unable to express your wishes.
There are many online resources available to help you get started in talking about your wishes with your loved ones and making sure those decisions are well-documented for your healthcare team. The Conversation Project (theconversationproject.org) has a lot of information to help you know where to start with this important discussion. Other resources include the National Institute on Aging (nia.nih.gov/health/publication/advance-care-planning) and the CDC (cdc.gov/aging/advancecareplanning). In South Carolina, you can easily access a Healthcare Power of Attorney form at aging.sc.gov/SiteCollectionDocuments/S/SCHealthCarePowerOfAttorney.pdf. This document does not require the assistance of a lawyer to help you fill it out, and does not need to be notarized. The only requirement is that you have two individuals serve as witnesses to the document who are not relatives of the person filling out the form.
Your primary care provider is probably eager to help you complete advance care documents. They can help you explore your options in light of your unique healthcare situation, make sure that you are getting the correct documents filled out, and that those documents are filed in your medical record so your whole healthcare team can see them. Next time you meet with your primary care provider, plan to bring up this topic of conversation with them. It is as simple as saying, “Hey doctor, can we talk about my advance care plans?”
If you happen to be near Greenville Memorial Hospital Thursday, April 20, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., please drop in and visit the National Healthcare Decisions day table located in the main lobby next to the hospital gift shop. Healthcare professionals will be on hand to answer any questions you have about advance care planning and help you get started on this important task.
Stephanie Richardson, RN, BSN, MA, CHPN, is palliative care nurse coordinator with Greenville Memorial Hospital and an affiliate instructor for the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville.