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5 Reasons to Complete Your Advance Directives Before Assisting Others

The truth is that those who assist others with completing advance care directives have no higher completion rate than the public. Why is that, and why is it imperative to change that statistic? Do not be a statistic; instead, be at the forefront of advance care planning and be an example: Start with your own.

  1. Advance care planning is for everyone. Don’t perpetuate the myth that Advance Directives are for the elderly by not completing your own.
    It’s a myth that these documents should only be completed by those of a certain age or diagnosis. Any one can become incapacitated and lose the ability to make basic healthcare decisions. Not completing your own documents can perpetuate this myth and potentially increase the chance of you missing opportunities to have crucial conversations with your patients.
  2. So you have first-hand experience with the challenges of communicating our priorities and values on paper.
    It’s much easier to talk about your healthcare choices than to document them on paper. Completing your own advance care directives forces you to acknowledge your own mortality and express what you want for your healthcare in the event you cannot communicate. Going through the process helps ensure you can relate with your patients’ difficulty in exploring these same challenges.
  3. So you can answer honestly when the person you are helping asks if you have completed your own Advance Directives.
    Patients often ask healthcare providers if they have completed their own advance care documents. It’s a legitimate concern; if these documents are important for patients to complete, then why haven’t their providers? It can diminish the need and leave the patients questioning their validity. When you ask yourself why, your answer may surprise you, but it will offer clues to areas you may want to gain more knowledge in before working with others on their documents.
  4. You will better know what information is needed to complete documents—and can anticipate questions and roadblocks.
    Until you have had to go through the advance directive forms as a user, it is more difficult to explain them as an instructor. Identifying what questions you needed follow-up guidance on from your own healthcare providers allows you to offer your own patients a list of follow-up questions to explore.
  5. When you’ve had to choose your own health care power of attorney, you understand why this can be such a difficult decision for others.
    One reason clients do not complete their advance directives is they don’t know who to name as their healthcare agent. Many feel they will hurt a family member’s feelings if they do not choose that person. Having to face this yourself helps you to work through this stressful area with clients.

Completing your own advance directives essentially acts as a role-playing exercise—with the added benefit of having your own completed documents finished at the end of the process.In gaining better understanding, you help minimize the burden that too many families face:having to make these decisions with no previously communicated discussion.

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Carla Sutter

Director, Arizona Healthcare Directives Registry | Contexture

Carla is the Director, Arizona Healthcare Directives Registry (AzHDR) for Contexture, Arizona’s Health Information Exchange (HIE). She holds a master’s degree in Social Work and has spent her 30-year career working with organizations dedicated to helping clients and families care for themselves and others whose needs are changing due to age or illness. Carla has focused on end-of-life tools and conversations and has served as a trainer and facilitator for advance care directives and POLST documents. She is also the author of Where Do We Begin: A Guide to Elder Caregiving.