Who Decides Health Care Decisions When a Patient Can't?

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Jill Chadwick

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             Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows more than 90% of adults in some intensive care units are not able to make their own health care decisions and only 20% to 29% have an advanced directive.

 “Advanced directives happen when family members share in advance what they want to have happen in a medical emergency if they are unable to speak for themselves,” Christian Sinclair, MD, palliative care doctor at The University of Kansas Health System, immediate past president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and editor of the website Pallimed said.  “Advanced care planning doesn’t have to include a lawyer and it doesn’t have to be a family member,” Dr. Sinclair said, “It can be anyone who you trust will carry out your wishes and is able to make a decision if and when the time comes.”

April 16, 2017 marks National Health Care Decisions Day.  It’s a time devoted to helping individuals and families talk about advanced care planning … encouraging such conversations to begin at home  - not the intensive care unit. Dr. Sinclair says there are several helpful websites such as ‘The Conversation Project’ , ‘Five Wishes’, and ‘Caring Conversations’ with tools to help guide you in making an advanced directive.  In the interview below, Dr. Sinclair talks more about advance care planning, how it helps ease stress during a health crisis, why advanced care planning may change as we age and what advanced care planning is not