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Advance Care Directives

Patients have a right to take an active role in their own health care. Unfortunately, there are times, such as sudden illness or an accident, when this is not possible.

Advance care planning affords patients the opportunity to exercise their right to make determinations regarding their medical care in advance in the event they become incapable of active participation in health care decisions. The process provides individuals with the opportunity to determine their goals regarding health and medical treatment based on personal values, attitudes, and beliefs surrounding health care, illness, and death. It also enables individuals to communicate their wishes to their primary care physician, their proxy, and loved ones. As a result of this process, if a patient becomes incapacitated, parties involved in the patient's care should have a common understanding of the patient's health care wishes and what the patient would have wanted.

More resources for patients

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO)

JAMA Patient Page - Decisions about end of life care

JAMA Patient Page - Advance directives for end-of-life medical decisions

For physicians

Physicians can play an important role in initiating and guiding the advance care planning process by making it a routine part of care for all patients, which is revisited regularly to explore any changes a patient may have in his or her wishes. This process ultimately can benefit patients; it can provide them with a sense of control and peace of mind with regard to their future health care. It is also advisable for physicians to do their own advance care planning.

It is important to support advance care planning decisions with formal documents, such as an advance directive. An advance directive might include a living will, through which a person indicates whether specific medical interventions would be desired, or a durable power of attorney for health care, whereby a patient designates a specific person to act as their agent for health care decisions in the event the patient is incapable of making such decisions.

Additional resources

Aging With Dignity

AMA policies on end-of-life care

American Bar Association: Health Care Advance Directives