HCN News & Notes

National Healthcare Decisions Day: a Time to Talk About Your Healthcare Wishes

NORTHAMPTON — The month of April is most known for tax deadlines, spring holidays, and the NCAA Final Four tournaments. Falling squarely in the middle of the month — on April 16 — is an observance that may not get as much attention: National Healthcare Decisions Day.

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) is an initiative to encourage people to express their wishes about their healthcare choices. According to theconversationproject.org, the goal of NHDD is to demystify healthcare decision making and make the topic of advance care planning unavoidable.

“Advance care planning involves discussing and preparing for future decisions about your medical care,” said Dr. Rebecca Starr, a Cooley Dickinson geriatrician and medical director of the Pioneer Valley Memory Care Initiative.

Yet, the topic can be scary for people.

“It’s common for people to avoid having these types of conversations; it’s the unknown,” Starr noted. “The research shows that you are more likely to get the care you want if you have conversations about your medical treatment with your family and friends and put a necessary plan in place before anything serious happens.”

In a National Institute on Aging study, people guessed nearly one out of three end-of-life decisions for their loved one incorrectly. “You may assume your loved ones know what you would want, but that may not always be true,” Starr said.

She noted that everyone over age 18 should have a healthcare proxy, adding that “it’s important for all adults, not just older adults.” A healthcare proxy is a simple document, legally valid in Massachusetts, which allows an individual to name someone as an agent to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they are unable to make or communicate those decisions.

In addition to raising awareness about important healthcare conversations, NHDD can be an opportunity to discuss other advance care planning forms and orders with a doctor, such as deciding on a healthcare proxy and completing a physician orders for life-sustaining treatment (POLST) form, which provides guidance about one’s medical care that healthcare professionals can act on immediately in an emergency.

“The most important thing to remember is to just start to have the conversation about your healthcare wishes so you are prepared if your health changes,” Starr said.

NHDD was founded in 2008 by Nathan Kottkamp, a Virginia-based healthcare lawyer, to provide clear, concise, and consistent information on healthcare decision making to both the public and providers and facilities through the widespread availability and dissemination of simple, free, and uniform tools — not just forms — to guide the process.

Learn more about National Healthcare Decisions Day and download free educational materials at theconversationproject.org/nhdd.