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3 Important Steps to Start Advance Care Planning

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As a physician, caring for patients with serious advanced illness can be very difficult especially if the patient, their family and their health care team, have never discussed what might happen next. It is important for patients and health care providers to have candid conversations about completing advance care planning documents. These documents help your care providers give you the best care possible based on an understanding of how you want to live.

What is Advance Care Planning?

Advance care planning is not just the completion of a form (living will or health care power of attorney); it’s more than that. It should include conversations with those you love and trust about the many things that are important to you as you age and as illness progresses. 

These discussions may be the best gift you can give your family. Importantly, the health care power of attorney, also known as a surrogate decision maker, is the person you have chosen to make decisions for you. It may be your best friend, niece or son-in-law rather than any of your children.

The most significant thing is to discuss details with your family and decision makers and write those conversations and decisions down as clearly as you can. Remember that no decision about these things is really a decision but it may lead to unnecessary turmoil in your family long after you are gone. Remember that these conversations could change the lives of those you leave behind.

What is National Health Care Decisions Day?

National Health Care Decisions Day, held annually on April 16, reminds us “it always seems too early until it's too late.” 

This phrase serves as a prompt for all patients to think of who they would want to make health care decisions for them when and if they cannot make those decisions for themselves and what those decisions might be. Many people (health care professionals included) think something like this will never happen to them.

We all know of someone who experienced a sudden or a chronic illness which rapidly worsened that had not made any plans, thus leaving their family, friends and health care team to make tough decisions without much direction. Those watching a scenario like this unfold are often heard saying, “I hope that never happens to me” or “I hope my children act differently toward each other.” But then they never put those thoughts in writing or tell others what they would have wanted in a similar situation.

Steps to Start Advance Care Planning

The following steps will help you begin the process of advance care planning.

  1. Choose a health care power of attorney
  2. Determine what is important to you
  3. Tell your family and friends your wishes

There are many helpful tools available for free online at (for Louisiana residents), Mississippi Advance Directive from, and Additionally, this guide walks through how to start the conversation about Advance Care Planning.

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