April 16th marks the 8th annual National Healthcare Decisions Day, a commemoration that exists to inspire, educate and empower the public and healthcare providers about the importance of advance care planning. NHDD organizers encourage all adults – regardless of age or health – to have end-of-life talks with their family members and medical providers and set up their advance directives.
The NHDD website offers a number of free resources for healthcare planning, as well as opportunities in all fifty states to connect with local organizers and participate in an NHDD event. We encourage our constituents and coalition members to check out the site, as all adults can benefit from thinking about what their healthcare choices would be if they are unable to speak for themselves. As our friends at Compassion and Choices remind us, “To receive the care you desire if you are seriously injured or dying, it is vital to discuss your healthcare wishes with your physicians and loved ones while you are healthy.”
In a 2003 article, “Advance Care Planning: Preferences for Care at the End of Life,” the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found the following:
- Less than 50 percent of the severely or terminally ill patients studied had an advance directive in their medical record.
- Only 12 percent of patients with an advance directive had received input from their physician in its development.
- Between 65 and 76 percent of physicians whose patients had an advance directive were not aware that it existed.
Additional research suggests that while advance directives and discussions are rare among all populations, advance care planning has been particularly inadequately discussed and developed for non-white and/or non-English-speaking populations. As we advocate for culturally competent healthcare and services for our diverse elder coalition members and their constituents, we hope that advance planning will be a part of the discussion – and the solution.
During last week’s White House Conference on Aging regional forum in Seattle, we were inspired by Rep. Jim McDermott’s impassioned plea to participants to talk about advance directives and end-of-life care. His TED Talk, “Don’t Take Death Lying Down,” offers further inspiration and motivation for developing a national movement around advance directives. Rep. McDermott even introduced legislation in 2009 to allow individual taxpayers a credit for 30% of the cost of legal fees associated with establishing an advance directive for themselves. His passion is contagious, and we hope that our readers, friends, community members and colleagues will consider starting this important discussion with their families today.
What are your end-of-life plans? Have you made any? What were the challenges you faced while you worked with your family and your medical providers to create your plans? Tell us your story here.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.