April is National Healthcare Decisions Month

SPRINGFIELD  —  National Healthcare Decisions Month in April is a call to action from The Conversation Project — a program of the National Institute for Healthcare Advancement — to “inspire, educate and empower” the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.

“During this worldwide pandemic where things can change in an instant, it is more important than ever to record your wishes about end-of-life care,” said Dr. Maura Brennan a geriatrician and palliative care physician who leads Baystate Health’s federally-funded Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program. “Life is unpredictable. If you become too sick to speak for yourself, it is important for your loved ones and the treating medical team to know how you want them to direct your care and who you trust to speak for you,”

Yet despite the efforts of The Conversation Project to bring greater awareness to the need for advance care planning, studies show that most Americans have not thought ahead to designate who should make decisions about their health care if they cannot speak for themselves.

National Healthcare Decision Day (April 16), now designated as an entire month, was founded in 2008 by Nathan Kottkamp, a Virginia-based health care lawyer. His goal was to “get the conversation going” and to provide clear, concise, and consistent information on healthcare decision-making to both the public and providers/facilities through the widespread availability and dissemination of simple, free, and uniform tools to guide the process.      

According to The Conversation Project website, the place to begin talking about your end-of-life care is at the kitchen table — not in the intensive care unit — with people you love, before it’s too late.

Getting the conversation going on such a sensitive topic isn’t always easy, but it needs to be done.

“Many people avoid the conversation because they don’t want to upset their loved one, but planning ahead can ease the stress and suffering for patients and family members alike if tragedy strikes,” said Brennan.

To help you get the conversation going, The Conversation Project on its website theconversationproject.org offers a 12-page “Your Conversation Starter Guide” for download in a variety of languages. The informative guide offers four steps — “Think About What Matters to You,” “Plan Your Talk,” “Start Talking,” and “Keep Talking,” including some phrases you can say to start talking.

Once you have had that important conversation, there are two important legal documents — a Health Care Proxy and Advance Directive — to complete in order to make sure that your wishes are clearly stated and respected when the time comes.

A Health Care Proxy is a simple legal document allowing you to name someone you know and trust to make healthcare decisions for you if, for any reason and at any time, you become unable to make or communicate those decisions. 

An Advance Directive, sometimes called a Living Will, is a document in which you state your wishes regarding end-of-life medical care — including the types of treatments you do and do not want such as “do not resuscitate (CPR)“ or whether to use dialysis or ventilators. One such document is a MOLST (Medical Orders for Live Sustaining Treatments).        

For more information on Baystate Health, visit baystatehealth.org.