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Published on April 19, 2019

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Making the Most of an Advance Care Plan

The many miracles of 21st century medical care allow us to live longer, healthier lives.

Those medical advancements can bring challenges that in the past did not exist especially when it comes to care decisions at the time of critical illness or injury.

Advance care planning is one way to face those challenges head-on. No one wants to consider their mortality, or plan for the end of life. But people who do often remove burdens from the people they love.

"When you craft your own plan, you’re preparing for the last chapters of your life," said Avera@Home Patient Care Coordinator Molly Heeney, RN, BSN. "You’re writing out your wishes according to your belief and your faith, and letting those who will survive you know clearly what you want."

Heeney said there are a few key considerations everyone should know before developing their own plans.

  • Do not postpone: "We recommend people evaluate their hopes for end-of-life any time they may have a change in health status," Heeney said. "It’s a good idea to prepare your plan now, and to review it regularly."
  • Why you don’t want to wait: The worst place to craft your plan is in an emergency room. Emotions are running high, stress is all around – but unfortunately many people must consider their choices at that juncture. It can lead to strife and misunderstandings with family, spouses and loved ones.
  • It’s your plan, but it’s not for you: Even if considering the end of your life makes you uneasy, it’s smart to remember the advance care plan you prepare will serve your loved ones the most. "It’s an important choice and one that requires some careful consideration," she said. "You might choose one specific person to make your decisions and honor your plan. It’s best to have a single surrogate decision-maker."
  • Use available resources: Avera@Home offices as well as most clinics and hospitals have advance care plan packets that will guide you through the decisions you or your loved ones may face at end of life. They are free and easy to obtain; once you have it completed, you can add the information to your electronic medical record or keep it somewhere it will be easily accessible. "Keeping it in a safety deposit box is a bad idea, because banks are not open at night or on weekends," said Heeney. "If you have medical information on your person – such as a medication list – keep your plan with those documents, too, like in a purse or wallet."
  • Answer all the questions: You may desire aggressive, life-extending efforts that would include many procedures and devices. You may want some, but not all. The plan packet will spell out all the choices and allow you to make your wishes known. "Once you have a plan in place, you can amend it as you wish, with the help of your doctor. Having a frank talk with your provider can help you make the best choices," Heeney said. "Conversations with your partner or spouse, other family members and your minister are all good ways to make sure you have developed the best plan, according to your faith and beliefs."

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