Meaningful conversations can ensure your health care wishes are followed

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It’s never too early to talk about your future healthcare wishes, or to create an advance care plan. [Source: Supplied]

National Advance Care Planning Week (March 18-24) is the perfect time to think about our future healthcare wishes and preferences and to have meaningful conversations with loved ones about advance care planning.

Advance care planning involves exploring and documenting personal wishes and preferences about healthcare so if you are unable to communicate for yourself, those wishes and preferences can guide care decisions. This will give you the best foundations for a positive end-of-life experience reflecting your wishes.

Key points

  • Just under one-third of Australians aged 65 and older are believed to have some form of advance care plan in place
  • A valid advance care directive cannot be overwritten by a healthcare professional or family member; they must follow your wishes, even the person you appoint as a substitute decision-maker
  • Advance care directives are an important document to have alongside an Enduring Power of Attorney to ensure your healthcare wishes are prioritised just as much as your financial ones

Starting the conversation about advance care planning is an important first step you can take to ensure your preferences for future care are known and respected. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say.

Advance Care Planning Australia’s conversation starters offer suggestions on how to open a conversation about what matters most to you, what you value, and what you are worried about.  

Conversations about future care should ideally involve your loved ones and health professionals. This may include someone you have formally appointed as a substitute decision-maker, biological or chosen family, or other important people in your life.

What should I consider when planning advance care?

  • What are the important things you would like to have if your health took a sudden turn; e.g. where would you like to receive care or what medical treatment do you consent to
  • Who would you want to make decisions (a substitute decision-maker) about your care if you were not able to communicate for yourself? 
  • What are the important things you want that person to know, to help make it easier for them to make decisions on your behalf, including your values and preferences

Ian was in his mid-60s when he received the news he had terminal cancer. The news rocked him, and he realised he needed to plan for his death. Ian’s General Practitioner (GP) suggested he start advance care planning. 

So, Ian spoke with his wife, who was his substitute decision-maker, and told her his wishes and preferences for care and treatment, including wanting to die at home, in the event he couldn’t voice this to health professionals himself. 

He also discussed this with his son, Mark, and appointed him as a secondary substitute decision-maker, knowing he would support his mother with these tough decisions. Ian’s wife and his son felt comforted knowing what mattered most to Ian. 

Deciding what appropriate healthcare you want to receive is a daunting task, even under everyday circumstances. But it becomes even tougher when your family, friends or healthcare professionals cannot communicate with you and do not know what you want.

It’s important to give them confidence by clearly communicating and documenting your wishes and preferences. Advance care planning gives you a voice and more control over your own medical treatment decisions.

Not sure what to say to your loved ones? Watch Advance Care Planning Australia’s ‘Share what matters most’ video – a conversation with Dr Greg Parker and Lesley Habel, National Manager Advance Care Planning Australia to support your advance care plans.

You can also find more information on how to plan for your future health care by visiting advancecareplanning.org.au/create-your-plan. For free advice or to request a printed starter pack, call the National Advance Care Planning Support ServiceTM on 1300 208 582 from 9am – 5pm (AEST/AEDT) Monday to Friday. 

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