By Cindy Aldrige, F.N.P., Provider for Lee’s Summit Physicians Group.
Do you wonder why every medical facility asks for an advanced directive, living will or DPOA when you check in? Do you even know what that is? Do you know why it’s important? Do you know why every adult (18+) should have one? Do you know how to get one?
In short, an advanced directive documents your health care wishes in the event you’re unable to tell others how you want to receive care.
According to AARP, an advanced directive is a general term that refers to the various documents that includes phrases like living will, instruction directive, health care proxy, durable power of attorney (DPOA) and health care power of attorney.
Advanced Directives are FREE or nearly FREE!!!
Does that get your attention? It’s easy to get advanced directive health documentation taken care of at low or no cost to you at all. You don’t have to have an expensive lawyer to be able to have this part of your healthcare information enacted. All you have to do is fill out a form, then have it notarized (this may be minimal cost but generally less then $5.)
A notary can be found at places of employments, banks, financial institutes, real estate agencies, hospitals etc. I often joke with parents that they should pass out Advanced Directive forms at their next family gathering and have everyone above the age of 18 fill it out. It can always be revised later, voided or a new one executed as life circumstances change (marriage, deaths, children become adults etc.)
Important Terms to Understand
A living will (or instruction directive/advanced directive) tells health care professionals and your family what you want or don’t want done concerning your health care needs if you are unable to voice or make your own health care decisions. This has nothing to do with your will of your possessions that an attorney helps with (Uncle Joe gets my boat, etc.)
An example of a situation that you might use the health care directive/living will is while you are sedated for surgery and an emergency or new problem arises and someone has to make a decision, but you are sedated and not available to make it for yourself. Another example is you are in a car accident and hit your head and you can’t make decisions for yourself until the swelling goes down and the breathing tube is taken out. This is when family and medical professionals can look at your advanced directive (health care directive) to answer some of these questions.
Durable Power of Attorney
Durable power of attorney (DPOA/health care proxy) is someone (one or two people) designated to know your wishes and make decisions on health care situations only in the event you are unable to make those decisions. Often it’s a spouse, family member, or trusted friend. The idea is that you have discussed your wishes and desires about your health care BEFORE the need to make those decisions arises.
Talk to your family about if you would want to be on a ventilator for longer than a month, would you want antibiotics and feeding tubes if there was no hope of you getting better, do you want CPR if you are brain dead. These are all difficult conversations for some, but growing up in a healthcare family, these were all things we talked about on a casual level, maybe at the dinner table.
I’ve been told several times, “I don’t want that paperwork filled out because I want them to do everything possible to make me better if I’m ever in that situation.” Just because you have an advanced directive filled out doesn’t mean the hospital will not care for you or provide every opportunity for recovery, it just means they have YOUR opinions about certain situations in writing in case any of them arise.
There are other forms for those that choose not to have a breathing tube, CPR etc. done that is usually referred to as a DNR meaning “DO NOT RESUSCITATE”. Again, this is only put in affect if you’re not breathing or your heart has stopped. To be blunt, you’re already dead by clinical definition, it’s just if you want techniques and machines used to help possibly bring you back to life.
Every medical provider will do everything in their power to help you unless there is strict paperwork filled out that mandates that they omit certain care/treatment!
Many forms have all the above terms/information included in a single form, so you don’t have to fill out a bunch of separate paperwork. You fill out what you want filled out, you don’t fill out what you don’t want to address.
These forms sometimes have a location on them related to organ donation wishes. All adults should consider organ donation. I will be writing another blog in a few weeks about DNR and organ donation. That may answer some questions and tell you about our family’s personal experience with organ donation.
Until then, get your advanced directive filed out and notarized and then give a copy of it to family, your primary care provider and take with you with any hospitalization/surgery.