It's Health Care Decisions Week: Talk to your patients about their end-of-life wishes

April 14, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: End of Life Issues Patient Education 

The California Medical Association (CMA) recognizes National Health Care Decisions week by encouraging physicians to speak with their patients about the importance of completing an advance directive to make sure their end-of-life wishes are known. Experts say only about 20-30 percent of Americans have completed an advance directive, even though all people age 18 and older should have one.

In California, advance directives are the legally recognized format for “living wills.” An advance directive enables individuals to make sure that their health care wishes are known in advance and considered if for any reason they are unable to speak for themselves. Advance directives also allow patients to appoint a health care "agent" who will have legal authority to make health care decisions in the event that the patient is incapacitated, or immediately upon appointment if the patient expressly grants such authority.

“While it is understandable that people would put off discussing the topic of serious illness and death, it’s essential to have this family conversation in advance,” says CMA President Ruth Haskins, M.D. “It’s a discussion that should take place in the living room, not in the hospital waiting room when it may be too late.”

CMA encourages Californians to think and talk with loved ones about their wishes for end-of-life medical care before a serious illness or injury occurs. CMA has developed a number of guidelines, forms and other resources to assist providers, patients and loved ones with making important end-of-life decisions.

The information, available in English and Spanish, includes legally recognized documents such as Advance Directives, Do-Not-Resuscitate forms and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). CMA's Advance Health Care Directive and POLST kits also include wallet identification cards and answer frequently asked questions from patients.


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