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Making an advance care plan

Advance care planning
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Written by Laura Bristow

Did you know April 16th is Advance Care Planning (ACP) Day in Canada? For many people, making an advance care plan is often put off for the future, but it’s an important discussion that can take place anytime.

Advance care planning is a way to help you think through and talk to your chosen loved ones about your values and wishes in relation to your future healthcare, should there come a time when you are not able to speak for yourself. It is important information for your family, your loved ones and your physicians.

“If you have not had an advance care planning discussion, now is a great time to take the steps to have one,” says Dr. Sarah Torabi, a palliative care physician. “If you are ever in a medical situation, where you cannot speak for yourself about important medical decisions, an advance care plan will be very helpful to your loved ones and the health care team to make the decisions made on your behalf align with your wishes and values.” 

“Advance care planning is important for everyone, no matter their health status, or the medical issues they may face. However, in situations where sudden or severe illness is possible, this becomes even more important.” says Dr. Sonal Gandhi, a medical oncologist.

As Canada manages the impact of COVID-19, everyone should have a plan in place in case such a scenario affects them. Documenting your medical care preferences, and the person you would want to make decisions for you in the event you’re unable to speak for yourself is important for all of us. This includes not just people who may be at risk for serious complications or death from the novel coronavirus, due to advanced age or an existing medical condition. For example, people with young children, those who are on the frontlines of treating patients, or people who live alone would benefit from these conversations as well.

“However, if you do have an underlying medical condition, you should further discuss what impact any sudden illness, like COVID-19, may have on your prognosis or ability to recover,” says Dr. Gandhi. “This sort of goals of care discussion will be more useful if you have an advance care plan in place.”

“An advance care planning conversation is an opportunity to reflect on and discuss your values, beliefs, and wishes,” says Dr. Torabi. “It is an ongoing discussion, which means it can happen and evolve at various stages in your life. It is a conversation for everyone.” 

How do I begin to make an advance care plan?

  • THINK about what is important to you for others to know if you can’t speak for yourself
  • LEARN about and familiarize yourself with your medical conditions.
  • DECIDE on your substitute decision maker (SDM). This is the person that you trust and can make future medical decisions if you cannot.
  • TALK about your values and wishes with your SDM, family, close friends, doctor and other healthcare providers.
  • RECORD your SDM and communicate your wishes. For help, go to SpeakUp Ontario website

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About the author

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Laura Bristow

Laura is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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