Planning ahead is considered a good rule of thumb, and as a physician, I have witnessed first-hand how this approach can be beneficial during a medical crisis. It is in these moments, when family members are tasked with making difficult decisions on behalf of a loved one, that the importance of having an advance care plan in place could not be clearer.
While support for advance care planning has slowly gained traction in the U.S., countless individuals remain unaware of what it is, let alone how it can affect the care they receive down the road. This is a challenge that National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) seeks to address head-on.
Observed annually on April 16, NHDD is an initiative designed to educate the public about advance care planning. During this time, the Louisiana Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (LaPOST) Coalition joins other advocates in encouraging patients and families to have open discussions about their health care wishes.
In Louisiana, there are three advance care planning documents to consider: the advance directive, or ‘living will,’ the health care power of attorney and the LaPOST document.
Advance directives detail instructions on what treatments should be given to a person when they can no longer make decisions or speak for themselves. It is usually completed in advance of any known illness.
The health care power of attorney authorizes someone else to make decisions on behalf of the patient when he/she has become incapacitated. In Louisiana, there is a specific order of who can make these decisions for the patient if no written instructions are available.
LaPOST is a physician’s order that allows patients with serious, advanced illnesses, to document their treatment wishes. It is complementary to an advance directive, is voluntary and can transfer with patients across health care settings.
Regardless of what kind of plan a patient chooses, it’s important to take the first step toward outlining an advance care plan today. Begin by thinking about the kind of treatment you would/would not want to receive if you could no longer speak for yourself. Have a conversation about your preferences with a close family member and your physician. An advance care plan not only provides peace of mind to family members, but it empowers patients by allowing them to make their wishes known.
To learn more about NHDD or to find out how to get involved, please visit nhdd.org. For more information about advance care planning and the LaPOST document, visit la-post.org.
Susan E. Nelson, MD FACP FAAHPM
LaPOST Coalition Chair