The Importance of Advance Care Planning

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People don’t like to think about unexpected illnesses and injuries, or a time when they are so sick that they are unable to make decisions about their medical and/or mental health care. Who would you trust to make those decisions for you? And what should those decisions be?

Q. What is advance care planning?

A. The central feature of advance care planning is selecting another adult as your patient advocate. Advance care planning also includes an ongoing process of discussing with your patient advocate and your health care provider what is important for you to live well. Talking with your patient advocate about your current state of health and what medical interventions you would like and those you would like to avoid is also included in this process.

Q. Who should consider advance care planning?

A. Any adult, whether or not they have health issues, should consider creating an advance care planning document. People often only think of this document if they have an illness or have reached a certain age; however, unexpected life events can occur at any time. This document can be an important guide to the patient and their loved when unforeseen circumstances arise.

Q. What do I need to include in my advance care planning document?

A. You should include your choice of patient advocate and successor advocate(s); a statement that gives your patient advocate authority to make decisions about your health care; and your signature and date witnessed by two adults, who must also sign and date the document. You may also choose to include preferences for treatment, but that is not required by law.

Q. Am I required to choose a family member as my patient advocate?

A. No. You may choose any adult, age 18 or older, as your patient advocate. It is important that this person knows you well and agrees to act in the critical role.

Q. I have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Is that the same as an advance care planning document?

A. Yes, a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is an advance care planning document. Other names for this legal document include Designation of Patient Advocate, Advance Medical Directive and Five Wishes. You may choose to create this document with the assistance of your attorney or you may choose to use the free form provided by MyMichigan Health or other health organizations. 

Q. Does my advance care planning document go into effect on the date that I sign it?

A. No. You maintain the right to make your own treatment decisions as long as you are of sound mind.  Should there ever be a time when you cannot make your own decisions, an evaluation by either two physicians or a physician and a licensed psychologist is needed to enact your advance care planning document and put your patient advocate in the role of making health care decisions for you. If you regain your ability to make your own decisions, then your patient advocate steps back from the role of decision maker.

Q. How does an advance care planning document differ from a financial power of attorney or a will?

A. In an advance care planning document, you give authority to another adult to make decisions about your health care should you be unable to make those decisions. A financial power of attorney and a will are focused on your financial concerns.

Q. Who should have a copy of my advance care plan?

A. It is very important that your patient advocate have their own copy of this document. If you select successor advocates, please share a copy with them, as well. You may also choose to share your document with your loved ones so that they understand who may make decisions about your health care for you.  Additionally, sharing your document with your health care provider and your preferred hospital is important.

Q. Does MyMichigan Health offer help to make my advance care plan?

A. Yes. Trained staff at MyMichigan Health and many community agencies are available to assist you with your document.

Amy Bailey-Sheets, L.M.S.W., is an advance care planning specialist at MyMichigan Health.


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