Many people have never the heard the term ‘advance care planning,’ but it’s a topic that affects everyone. It refers to doing what you can to ensure that your wishes and preferences are consistent with the health care treatment you might receive if you were unable to speak for yourself or make your own decisions.
Only you can agree to make important decisions about your health, which refers to giving consent. But there are many reasons why your ability to make these decisions may not be possible, such as an accident or illness that causes confusion. These are scenarios no one likes to consider, but if they happened, who would make these health decisions for you? And how would they know what your wishes are?
At a recent Sunnybrook Speaker Series, Dr. Lisa Del Giudice – Family Physician with Sunnybrook’s Academic Family Health Team – explained that advance care planning helps prepare the person who would be making your health care decisions by talking about what is important to you and what you value in life.
So when is the right time to have this discussion? Like retirement planning, you may not need it for many years but it’s worth doing in advance. The best time is when you feel well and can articulate your wishes, and this may be an ongoing discussion as your health or other factors change. At Sunnybrook, these conversations have been made part of routine care, and clinicians and families are given resources to have them. Many are available on the Sunnybrook website.
Research has found that advance care planning discussions improve quality of life and the likelihood that health care wishes will be fulfilled. Family members also benefit, feeling less distressed about the decisions they have made on behalf of their loved one, leading to a greater piece of mind.
Your advance care plan will only be used when you are no longer able to make your own health care decisions. And at that point, your substitute decision maker will review your wishes, values and beliefs before making health care decisions on your behalf.