Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, many unknowns remain about the virus’s impact on our health, jobs, social life and economy. But one clear impact of COVID-19 is the importance of planning for your care before you need it — otherwise, you risk having others make your care decisions on your behalf.

Thankfully, advance care planning (ACP) provides a clear, thorough framework for discussing and documenting your care preferences within your electronic medical records. Let's explore how ACP can bring peace of mind to patients and plans even during the most uncertain, unprecedented circumstances.

Planning ahead in healthcare

We are a society of planners. We plan for weddings, graduations, retirement, family get-togethers, and trips. Why do we do this? We inherently understand that the results of an event will be better if we plan. For example, it’s hard to host a successful dinner party with family or friends if you haven’t figured out if you have the right ingredients for the food, enough food to make a dish and an adequate amount of plates, cups and seats at the table. The same goes for healthcare; if we plan, the outcome improves.

What does that look like?

  • Less pain or other distressing symptoms.
  • Getting the care that you want, not the care that someone else thinks you should have
  • Less stress and conflict for anyone you might care about that gets involved in your care – a spouse, child, doctor or friend
  • Maintaining your independence at home versus having to live in a nursing facility

The rise of ACP with COVID-19

Initially, many people in the United States were fearful that we would have to ration care — and with good reason. When the virus came to Italy, not everyone that needed a ventilator (or other forms of medical attention) were able to receive them. We are fortunate in the U.S. that these medical resources are not as scarce; thankfully, our fears never came true. But this doesn't mean we should ignore the importance of ACP during both typical — and extraordinary — circumstances.

The pandemic has put ACP in the spotlight like never before. All the major news outlets and medical journals have written pieces describing ACP as crucial, urgent and important. Why is this? While we are not short on ventilators in the U.S., our healthcare professionals are short on time.

Talking through the care you want can be time intensive. Think about it this way; you wouldn't want to plan for retirement in five minutes or less with a financial planner. Would you want to spend even less time talking to a doctor about the care you want? Unfortunately, this was the reality before COVID-19. Should healthcare providers become even busier, you’ll get less time.

Taking back control with ACP

COVID-19 is front and center, no longer an abstract. The acute problems it causes do not wait for you to have conversations with those you love or trust. With severe COVID-19 infections, other people may need to make decisions about your healthcare for you. If those you trust to do this don’t understand what’s important to you, they will be fighting blindly. This causes them stress and can cause conflict even amongst those that care for you. Planning ahead prevents these issues from happening.

ACP also improves your sense of control. Most people want to have a strong voice in what happens with their health and well-being. Becoming infected with the virus can take this away from us. We know that people often don’t get the care that they want. There are many reasons for this, but lack of planning is one of the major causes. Planning involves not only talking through what’s important to you, but also making sure that those thoughts are documented and distributed to those that would follow the plan. Through ACP, you can remain as the captain of your own ship.

ACP provides us the time it takes to properly talk through what’s important. It takes stress and burden off those who will make decisions for us if we are in a position where we can’t communicate our preferences to those providing us medical care. ACP makes sure that we don’t lose control over the care we receive. These benefits shouldn’t be motivated by fear. Rather we can attain peace of mind in being prepared. ACP is something that can prevent or transform fear by bringing us to shared understanding.

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