April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day — an annual event that provides an opportunity to reflect on the importance of advance healthcare planning.
Why Have Advance Directives in Place?
Advanced directives help make your healthcare treatment decisions clear to friends and family, as well as healthcare professionals. This process puts your healthcare preferences in writing, in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. It is one of the best ways to show respect for yourself and your loved ones, should you ever experience a life-altering situation.
The 4 Types of Advanced Directives
There are four types of advance directives: healthcare proxy, DNR form, living will, and a MOLST. At a minimum, it is good for everyone to have an identified healthcare proxy.
The healthcare proxy document allows you to appoint someone of your choosing to make decisions regarding their health in the event that you cannot speak for yourself.
Many people choose a spouse, but regardless, it’s important to identify someone who understands your values and wishes, or will follow through on all of your decisions. When a patient does not have a healthcare proxy, the family healthcare decisions act will appoint the closest relative as your legal decision maker.
A DNR form is very specific and instructs medical professionals to not perform CPR when it’s needed.
A DNR says this and only this: if you are found not breathing and without a pulse, medical staff will not try to restart your heart or breathing pattern through chest compressions, electric shocks, medication, or other machines or tubes.
The DNR is a choice and is not mandatory. If you do not have DNR in place, your healthcare proxy will make the decision regarding resuscitation.
A living will is an advance directive that gives you the ability to speak for yourself should you be unable to.
It is a flexible document that allows you to state your wishes regarding medical care when your decision-making is impaired in some way. This could be the result of events like a stroke, severe dementia, or a coma. While there is no standard living will form in New York State, you can download one online at caringinfo.org.
The Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) form is a comprehensive document that states your wishes regarding life sustaining treatments.
The MOLST is for people who are expected to be in the last one to two years of life due to a predictable disease and is filled out in the presence of a medical provider.
Filling Out Healthcare Decisions Forms
Although some people may choose to have a lawyer present, you do not need legal authorization to fill out advance directive paperwork.
You should, however, take care to use the forms provided by the New York State Department of Health. If listing a family member or loved one as a proxy, take time and go through the forms with them to get their full consent and accurate contact information.
Talk to a trusted physician if you think you may be interested in providing special instructions, to ensure your full understanding of the options present.