4 questions about advance care planning, answered

4questions2.jpgBy Wendy Griffith, social work counselor

Many Americans are beginning to talk about their medical care wishes. This process of making decisions about your future health care is called advance care planning.

Some people avoid advance care planning because they think it’s just for the sick or elderly. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Advance care planning is for everyone!

Many people also avoid discussing advance care planning with their loved ones because they’re afraid of upsetting them. But most patients and loved ones actually report feeling a sense of relief after they’ve completed advance care planning.

Today, in honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, we’re encouraging our cancer patients, survivors, and their families to start the advance care planning process. To help you begin, here are answers to some common questions about advance care planning.

What is advance care planning?
Advance care planning is the process of communicating information about a patient’s diagnosis, treatment options, life goals, values and wishes. It involves the patient, loved ones, and health care providers. Advance care planning is also more than a one-time event. It will probably involve ongoing conversations. Having these conversations ensures that the patient’s preferences are known by the health care team and incorporated into current and future health care plans.

Why is advance care planning important?
We all want the opportunity to participate in our own medical care. But that isn’t always possible due to things like sedation, a serious medical condition or medications.

The only way to ensure you have a voice in your future care is to talk with your loved ones and complete the legal documents that make your values and wishes known.

What does advance care planning include?
Many people think that advance care planning is only about the advance directive documents, including the Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will. But advance directives are just one of the many components of advance care planning. Here’s what else it includes:

Advance directives

  •     Medical Power of Attorney
  •     Living Will
  •     Out of Hospital Do Not Resuscitate

Other documents

  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • General Will
  • Organ/body Donation
  • Agent to Control Disposition of Remains

Care plans that take into account a patient’s goals and wishes
Legacy work
Funeral plans

  • Burial, cremation, freezing, etc.
  • Church service, ceremony, no service, etc.

Where do I begin?
Identify someone you trust to make the medical decisions that you would make for yourself. Make sure that person is willing to be your Medical Power of Attorney.

  • Have a detailed conversation with your selected decision maker about your values, goals and wishes. To prepare for that conversation, think about what quality of life means to you. What is important to you? What makes life worth living? What would suffering look like to you?
  • Speak with your health care providers about your values, goals and wishes. This way, they can honor your choices and provide medically accurate and relevant feedback.
  • Share all of the above information with your loved ones. That includes your family, extended family, friends and anyone else that is close to you.
  • Once you have settled on and discussed your choices, complete the advance directive documents that are legal in your state. And, be sure to give a copy of the document to your agent and health care provider.
  • Revisit your plan frequently to make sure that it is still in line with your wishes. This is especially important to do when there has been a change in your health or marital status.

Thinking about the future can be emotional. But remember, advance care planning also can bring relief to you and to your loved ones.  

For more information on advance care planning, please contact MD Anderson’s Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195, or tell your nurse or doctor that you would like speak with a social work counselor. You can also visit www.mdanderson.org/advancecareplanning.

To schedule an appointment at MD Anderson, please call 1-877-632-6789 or request an appointment online.


Advanced care planning (ACP) – communicating end of life choices in advance