Where to Start With Advance Care Planning

Cindi Gatton

Cindi Gatton

August 13, 2020

Planning your health care for the future is a vital step toward making sure that you get the medical care you would want in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. Otherwise, doctors and/or family members are making the decisions for you. 

Many Americans face questions about their medical treatment but may not be capable of making those decisions. We will help explain the types of decisions you may need to make and how you can plan so that you are in a situation that favors your values and preferences.

What is Advance Care Planning?

Advance care planning is when you think about the decisions that might need to be made related to your healthcare in advance, and you let your family and healthcare providers know. An advance directive allows you to consider and express your values related to end-of-life care.

With these decisions made, it is then consolidated into an advance directive, a legal document that will be used if you are unable to speak for yourself. This legal document can be adjusted as your situation may change with new information or a change in health. Throughout this process, you may consider who you would want to make decisions for you and how you can share your wishes with others no matter how old you are. 

Knowing who will be making decisions on your behalf and who will advocate for your preferences in treatment can take some burden off yourself, family, and friends. There is a lot to know about advance care planning, including many common myths, so be sure you are well informed before you start the process.

Getting Started With Advance Care Planning

Making decisions for yourself or for someone who is no longer able to do so can be stressful and overwhelming. It might help to talk with your doctor about your current health conditions and your family medical history, and how they might influence your health in the future.

By asking your doctor to help you understand the situation, you can think through the choices you have before it is written down. It is free through Medicare to discuss advance care planning decisions with your doctor during your annual wellness visit. Some health insurance companies may cover your discussions for advance care planning. Contact your insurance provider to confirm this coverage.

Follow this Advance Care Planning Checklist to ensure you have thought about everything as you go through the process:

I have learned about my present health condition/status

General questions to help you learn more about your health and condition(s):

  • What effect will your condition have on your life?

  • What are your options when your health condition gets worse?

  • How will your condition affect your ability to function independently?

I have thought about my own values, beliefs, personal goals and how they relate to my healthcare

Some questions you may want to consider are:

  • What gives your life meaning?

  • What brings quality to your life?

I have spoken to my healthcare provider(s) about my current health situation and what types of healthcare decisions I may need to make in the future.

You can think about:

  • How have you made healthcare choices in the past?

  • What factors did you consider?

  • What fears or worries do you have about your condition?

I have talked about my healthcare treatment wishes with my family, trusted friends, and/or caregivers.

You can consider:

  • How do your decisions about your condition, your care, and your treatments affect your loved ones?

  • Were there things that could have been done differently when thinking about past medical care a family member or friend received during an illness?

By clarifying what you value and hope for during these times, your doctors can help choose the best plan for your care. If you see yourself having difficulty going through the checklist, consider speaking with a Healthcare Advisor to help guide these conversations.