Put It in Writing with Advance Care Planning

April 9, 2024

If something should happen to you and you were unable to communicate with your healthcare providers and your family, how would you ensure you receive the care you want? As medical professionals, a patient’s agency — that is, their ability to consent and make decisions for themselves — plays an important role in the delivery of services. However, severe injuries and debilitating illnesses can sometimes prevent patients from verbalizing their wishes.

April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, an opportunity for healthcare professionals to spread awareness on the importance of advance care planning. Learn more about creating invaluable directions for your providers and your family and how you can help guarantee you receive the type of care you want.

What Is Advance Care Planning?

According to the National Institutes of Health, advance care planning describes the process of discussing or preparing for medical decisions should you fall seriously ill and lack the ability to communicate your healthcare wishes. This means discussing your preferences with your family or a close friend in addition to creating advance directives, or legal documents, that detail instructions for your care. These directives only go into effect when a medical professional has confirmed you are unable to communicate your wishes. The State of Illinois allows four types of advance care planning:

When to Make an Advance Care Plan

Some may regard advance care planning as something that can be done later, or something that should only be done after receiving a terminal diagnosis. Unfortunately, an accident or medical emergency can strike at any time. Though you can’t predict where or when, you can prepare by creating advance care directives as soon as possible.

In the event you don’t have an advance care plan and are unable to communicate with your providers, a healthcare surrogate may be chosen for you. Once two doctors confirm you are unable to make your own decisions, a surrogate will be contacted by the provider as detailed in Sec. 25 of the Health Care Surrogate Act. A healthcare surrogate may be (in order of priority):

Your surrogate may not tell providers to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatments unless you have a qualifying condition as described by state law, including:

Steps to Planning Ahead

First, reflect on your own personal values and think about the kind of treatment you would want to receive at the end of your life. Communicate these values with your primary care provider and discuss your health to better understand which health decisions are likely upcoming. Advance care planning is covered by Medicare as part of your Annual Wellness Visit. Additionally, you should communicate your wishes with your private insurance provider.

Choose someone you can trust to act as your proxy. Discuss your values and wishes with them and communicate specific treatments and care decisions if you’re ready to; if not, talk about your general healthcare preferences. Finally, complete the necessary advance directive forms and share copies with your proxy, healthcare providers, and loved ones. Store the original copy in a safe, secure place.

There’s no time like now to think about the future — talk to your friends, family, and healthcare providers about your advance care planning. Find a provider or call (217) 322-4321.