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5 Steps to Take Charge of Your Health Care Wishes

5 Steps to Take Charge of Your Health Care Wishes

Posted on April 12, 2023 by Mary Crowe, LICSW, ACHP-SW, C.D.S., CDP

Note: This article is published in observance of National Healthcare Decisions Day.

What medical treatments would you want if you were faced with a life-limiting illness or accident? Which would you not want?

You may have thought about it, but have you put those plans in writing and shared them with an agent who could express your health care wishes if you were unable to do so? 

Only one-third of U.S. adults have discussed or completed advance directive documents such as a health care proxy, power of attorney, or living will that help guide family members and health care professionals as to what kind of medical treatments you would or would not like to receive if you were unable to speak for yourself. Follow these steps to take charge of your health care wishes:

1.  Choose a health care agent. This is a person you trust who will be your voice around health care wishes/choices if you are unable to speak for yourself.

2.  Complete a health care proxy (HCP), which names your agent and alternate and authorizes them to make medical decisions for you. The HCP is a legally binding document in Massachusetts but takes effect only when your physician determines that you lack capacity to communicate your wishes about your medical treatment. 

3.  Write your health care choices in a planning document (a.k.a. “personal directive”) such as the example by Honoring Choices Massachusetts or the  Five Wishes planner. While these documents are not legally binding in Massachusetts, they will guide your health care agent about your care preferences. 

4.  Share copies of your personal directive and health care proxy with your agent and alternate, doctor, family, and others important to you. Add them to your medical record. Keep the original in a safe, accessible place with your important documents.

5.  Talk about your care choices with your health care agent and alternate, doctor, and family. Your personal directive can help start important conversations needed in times of serious illness, including:

  • Do I want life support treatment, and if so, what kind and when?
  • How do I want my pain managed?
  • How do I want to be treated if I am near death?
  • What are my burial wishes and preferences about organ donation?

It is important that you have continued discussions about your health care wishes. If you change your mind about the choices you have made with your advance directive, you can revoke them anytime. 

Sharing your health care choices is a gift you can give to those you love, giving them the confidence to act knowingly on your behalf. By having previously documented your personal wishes and choices, you will lighten the decision-making burden for family, physician, and friends. Your loved ones can feel confident they are voicing your wishes, not their guesses about the medical care you should receive. 

Learn more about advance care planning and access resources.

About the author

Mary Crowe, LICSW, ACHP-SW, C.D.S., CDP, is Director of Professional and Community Education at Care Dimensions.





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