Health Break | Published March 30, 2009 | Written by Kathy Dittmann, RN

Let Your Family Know Your Healthcare Wishes

April 14 marks National Healthcare Decisions Day at Mount Nittany Medical Center. Hospitals throughout Pennsylvania and the nation are asking all of us to think about, and make provisions for, the kind of healthcare we would want should a catastrophic accident or illness make us unable to express our wishes to family, loved ones and doctors. Sometimes we think that everyone in our family knows what we would want and we assume that they will carry out our wishes. However, family and friends sometimes struggle emotionally when asked to make an end-life decision for a loved one. Also, family members may have difficulty remembering the exact details of what someone may want or not want. At times family members cannot come to consensus on a decision, or there may be unusual family dynamics that make end-of-life situations extremely stressful.

It is estimated that only about 15 percent of people have executed an advance directive. Moreover, less than 50 percent of severely or terminally ill patients have an advance directive in their medical records. A significant reason for this low number is that there is considerable confusion in the public about advance directives. For example:
* People do not know what advance directives are and may incorrectly think they are only documents used to decline treatment;
* People want to execute advance directives, but do not know how or think it is expensive; and/or
* People are afraid to talk about healthcare planning when they are healthy.

Everyone should have the opportunity to express what they would want, should they ever not have the capacity to make medical decisions. A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney may be determined by you to speak on your behalf for healthcare decisions should you not have the capacity to make medical decisions. Your physician would determine your ability to understand and make medical decisions. The decision-making power is limited to when you are unable to make decisions, which can be temporary or permanent. A Living Will provides healthcare treatment instructions in the event of end-stage medical condition or permanent unconsciousness and there is no realistic hope of significant recovery.

Making an advance directive about end-of-life care is a written expression of your wishes, whatever they are. You may choose to have aggressive interventions, choose some interventions or choose no interventions. The point is that YOU choose what you want and you document your wishes clearly for others to follow.

National Health Care Decision Day is a nationwide observance to increase public awareness of how important it is for all of us to consider, and write down, the kind of care we would want should we face a debilitating, terminal health condition with no hope of improvement. At Mount Nittany Medical Center, we see firsthand the difficult decisions faced by families when the wishes of gravely ill loved ones, no longer able to communicate, are unknown. It's our responsibility to inform our community about end-of-life healthcare issues and to encourage the documentation of healthcare decisions and requests.

On April 14, Mount Nittany Medical Center will offer “Make Your Healthcare Wishes Known,” a presentation to learn about end-of-life care healthcare decision-making and the opportunity to complete advance directives forms. Use this opportunity to talk with our staff, have your questions answered and complete an advance directive. Enter the Medical Center through Entrance D at the rear of the Medical Center; the Galen and Nancy Dreibelbis Auditorium is right inside the entrance.

For more information, call the Service Excellence Department at 814.234.6780.

Kathy Dittmann, RN, is the service excellence coordinator at Mount Nittany Medical Center.