4 Advance Healthcare Planning Considerations

Making Health Care Decisions to Protect Yourself

The best way to make sure your family members and loved ones know and will follow your healthcare wishes is to plan for this eventuality by proactively doing your homework and then creating an advance healthcare directive. While you might think that advance directives are just for the elderly or frail, the best time to complete your first advance healthcare directive is actually when you are young and healthy! Once you've created it, you can then just update your documents as you age and/or your health condition changes.

You can create an advance healthcare directive in eight steps, but this article offers four important factors you should carefully consider as you make decisions about your future end-of-life healthcare needs and desires, and how to document them properly when creating your advance healthcare directive.

Consider Your "Goals of Care"

Man with tablet looking out window
Thinking about your end-of-life healthcare decisions isn't easy but it's important to do. Photo © David Lees/Digital Vision/Getty Images

There are three general goals for medical care, and you should carefully consider what goal or outcome you desire for a variety of end-of-life situations, whether due to illness, disease or accident:

Cure: This is the standard we are all used to, and nearly all healthcare efforts and treatments are directed toward achieving this goal. For example, when we get sick, we go to the doctor for treatment because we want to be restored to full health.

Stabilization: Unfortunately, many diseases and other situations that affect our normal healthy state cannot be cured but can still be stabilized with proper medical treatment.

Comfort Only: Some healthcare situations can neither be cured nor stabilized. In these situations, palliative care or hospice care might be the best course of action.

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Consider Your Treatment Options

When creating your advance healthcare directive, many of the documents will require you to make important decisions about the extent of care you want to receive during an end-of-life situation. Some of the treatments you should learn more about as you plan ahead and establish your advance healthcare directive include:

Life support

Artificial Nutrition and Hydration


Complete the Proper Document(s)

There are numerous documents from which to choose when establishing your advance healthcare directive. Some of these forms are very basic while others dig a little deeper into your personal preferences. You should familiarize yourself with the following documents before deciding which ones are right for you:

Advance Directives/Living Wills

Durable Power of Attorney

Physician’s Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

Do Not Resuscitate/Allow Natural Death

Have the Talk... Often

An ICU physician once said to me, "A dead patient can't sue me, but his family sure can," as he explained to me why he was ignoring a patient's advance directive and honoring the wishes of the family instead. In other words, it's not enough to complete a few forms and then expect your wishes to be honored in an end-of-life situation -- you also need to discuss your preferences and desires with your family members and those close to you to make sure your loved ones know your wishes and will honor them.

A great way to "have the talk" and get the conversation going is to play the "Go Wish" card game. This card-based game offers an easy, fun way to think and talk about what's important to you if you become seriously ill. (You can also play this game for free online.)

Edited and updated by Chris Raymond, February 21, 2016.

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