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Advance Care Planning 101

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Did you know:

When you get sick you have the right to choose your medical treatment options. But what if you became very sick and were unable to speak for yourself? Who would speak for you? Would they know what you would want, or would they have to guess?

Advance care planning is the process of making decisions for future medical care in case you become too sick or injured to make yourself. It can be uncomfortable to think about, so many of us put off this conversation until later or sometimes never bring it up.

UPMC is hosting a Day of Conversation on April 16, and we challenge you to start talking to your loved ones now. Also during this year’s Day of Conversation, we are launching a new advance directive: the Pennsylvania Advance Health Care directive. We hope you use this newly updated document as a tool.

How to get started on your advance care plan:

  1. Think about what you want. Remember, this is not mainly about medical treatments or legal rights. It’s about ensuring you are the decision maker. Consider your values, and what makes your life worth living.

For example, some people believe life is worth living only if they can feed, bathe, take care of themselves, or be free from pain. Others say life is worth living if they can talk to family and friends. Even some people say life is always worth living no matter how sick they may become. There is no right or wrong choice here. What matters most is that you have taken the time to make choices and explain your choices to your loved ones.

The Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive is here for you to start figuring out your values and what means most to you.

  1. Talk with your loved ones. Having a conversation about advance care planning is very important; it can also be difficult. But the best time to talk about it is now. In a crisis or illness situation, your loved ones will have a slightly easier time if they already know your preferences. You can give your loved ones peace of mind that they know they honored and respected your wishes.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use conversation starters like current events, TV shows, sermons, funerals, or even medical checkups.
  • Approach the conversation wanting to share your wishes before you ask someone else to share their own wishes.
  • Be prepared for anything. You may need to have more than one conversation. You may not have expected your loved one’s emotional reaction. This is OK.

Sample conversation starters:

  • While I was in the doctor’s office, I saw a form called the “Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive.” Would you be interested in reading it so we could discuss it later?
  1. Choose your health care decision maker. You may choose your spouse or children, but you don’t have to. You can choose a friend or neighbor. The person you choose is sometimes referred to as a health care agent or a durable medical power of attorney. Be careful not to confuse this with a financial power of attorney, which is equally as important, but different.

Think about the people who mean the most to you. Which of your loved ones can:

  • Make your wishes heard?
  • Follow your wishes — whether or not they agree?
  • Make sure you get the care you want, in the place you want, with the people you want by your side?

If have not chosen someone and you become unable to make your own decisions, Pennsylvania law will determine who is appointed as your decision maker. This may or may not turn out to be the person you would have chosen. So take the time to name a health care decision maker. Ask them if they would be willing to do this for you, and tell them your wishes.

  1. Document your wishes. UPMC has adopted the Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive, which you can download here. It is written in plain language and has space for you to write down your values, your treatment preferences, and your health care agent. Some states require you to have your advance directive signed by a notary. This is not required in Pennsylvania.

Discuss and share your advance directive with the people who can help to make sure your decisions will be honored. Examples include your decision maker, family, physician, and priest.

Review it once a year to make sure that your wishes haven’t changed. When your wishes change, you will need to fill out a new advance directive. Remember to give new copies to your loved ones.