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Blog: Stories and Insight

Reflections on National Healthcare Decisions Day



“It always seems too early, until it’s too late.”

Dr. Stephen Goldfine
Dr. Stephen Goldfine, Chief Medical Officer

Has this ever happened to you? You keep putting something off, thinking you have all the time in the world, only to find yourself stressed out and caught short – of time, energy, and resources to plan.

Sadly, that scenario is all too common when it comes to talking about what no one wants to think about – pain, illness, and mortality.

That’s why so few Americans give themselves and their families the gift of advance care planning. A study published in the January 2014 edition of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that only 26.3 percent of the 7,900 respondents had an advance directive – defined as the legal documents that enable you to plan for and share your end-of-life wishes in the event that you are unable to communicate.

By avoiding these topics, we can lose control of having our wishes honored if illness or injury suddenly made us unable to speak for ourselves.

That’s why National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) was created to educate, and empower the public about the importance of advance care planning.

Supporting family conversations – preferably now around the kitchen table, rather than later in the ICU during a crisis – is why I promote National Healthcare Decisions Day.

As a palliative physician, I have these sensitive conversations with patients and families every day. And my conversations always begin at the same place: How do you define quality of life? What personal and cultural values make life worth living for you? What are your goals for the care you choose to receive—or not receive?

When I listen and learn what matters most, only then can I work with you on a care plan and choices that are reasonable for you. Only then, can I hope to honor your wishes, and help you  to achieve physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort for each stage of the journey.

But these topics are tough to bring up with those we love. It’s hard to find “the right time.” Let’s use NHDD as a reason to start the conversation.

I’m proud to say that Samaritan has taken on this challenge year-round. Our Timely Conversations project has coined the easy-to-remember slogan, “Think. Talk. Act.” These three simple words challenge you to think about what matters most to you, talk about it with those you love and your healthcare providers, and act on those wishes by writing them down and providing copies to all who need them.

Dr. Ira Byock, a leading palliative care expert, has written, “I have an advance directive, not because I have a serious illness, but because I have a family.” So, before it’s too late, celebrate National Healthcare Decisions Day by sharing the gift of timely conversations with your family. It will provide peace of mind, and better healthcare outcomes for years to come.