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Advance Care Planning important for all – not just chronically ill
Planning for your future health care
Learn more about having advance care planning discussions with your loved ones.
Whether you’re ill or not, having an advance care plan is a good idea. Here’s why you might want to consider making one.
Most people think of an advance care plan as something that’s important only for older or chronically ill patients. But in reality, said John Makepeace, a social worker with the New Ulm Medical Center, it’s a good idea for everyone. After all, in some ways it’s just like having life insurance: it’s a good idea to be prepared for the unexpected in life.
“Medical advances and medical science have made great strides in past decades,” said Makepeace. “We are faced with health care questions our parents and grandparents may not have imagined. If ever a person is asked, ‘Who do you want to make your health care decisions?’ the answer is obvious: we want to make our own decisions, of course!”
What Is Advance Care Planning?
In the simplest of terms, advance care planning is having a plan in place in case an injury, accident, or health condition leaves you incapacitated and unable to make your own health care decisions. “If a person is unable to make their own health care choices and is asked who they want to make their decisions (if they don't have the ‘capacity’ to decide for themselves), they typically want family or very trusted people to make those decisions — not strangers and not necessarily only doctors and medical staff,” said Makepeace.
When the plan is put into writing, it is known as an advance directive or a health care directive. The entire advance care process involves learning and understanding your health care options, making decisions about the type of care you do and do not want, putting those wishes in a written directive and appointing an agent (also called Power of Attorney for Health Care) to represent and communicate those wishes. The Health Care Directive form will guide you through those decisions.
“A health care directive provides your family and health care providers with specific direction on your wishes,” said Makepeace. “It is a legal document that must be honored by health care providers. We, each of us, are able to specify what we want and don't want with our own health care.”
Susan Klatt, 65, and Maynard Nelson, 79, certainly understand the importance of advance care planning. Though not married, they have lived together and been each other’s caretakers for more than 20 years. Recently, a number of heart-related health concerns for both of them made them realize how important it was that they be each other’s health care agents.
Without these vital documents, they would be powerless to make important decisions for one another. So in August of 2011, they worked with John Makepeace to draft their health care directives, and they are now each other’s health care agents. In less than one hour, their own directives were completed, notarized and then sent to their medical charts at New Ulm Medical Center.
Easier Than You’d Expect
Unfortunately, many people do not create a health care directive because they believe it requires the services of an attorney. Makepeace said this is a myth. “This often happens as attorneys understand how this process works and what the laws say about medical providers and others following your written and notarized wishes, but you do not have to meet with an attorney to draw up a health care directive, although that is certainly an option.”
One no-cost option for creating your own advance care directive is to meet with a social worker like John through the New Ulm Medical Center. You can also get started by yourself using the resources available through the medical center’s website. You can read a number of documents to guide you through the process at this link. You can also set up a meeting with an advance care facilitator like John Makepeace by calling 507-233-1000 and setting up a one-hour clinic appointment. Talk about this with your health care provider at your next medical appointment. You can also get the material needed to complete a health care directive at that visit.