National Healthcare Decisions Day happens annually on April 16th. This is a day to inspire, educate, and empower both clinicians and individuals about advance care planning. It is a day to highlight the importance of advance care planning – having the conversation, choosing a healthcare agent, and truly reflecting on your goals and values when making future healthcare decisions should you not be able to speak for yourself.

In the World of COVID-19

If there is one thing we have learned from this past year, it is to prepare for the unexpected. With well over 500,000 deaths in the US alone, it is not just the elderly and seriously ill who have succumbed to the infection. There were and continue to be many seemingly healthy, younger individuals who find themselves admitted to the hospital. Some ultimately dying. This serves as a reminder that we all need to have these conversations and have care plans in place.

Having ‘the Conversation’

I think we can all recognize that talking about death is uncomfortable. While it may be uncomfortable, it is a necessary conversation. This is an important conversation for individuals to have with family and loved ones. It’s also an important conversation to have with your healthcare providers.

While most people would like for their providers to start this conversation, the reality is that 84% of adults 65+ have not had an advance care conversation with a physician. And while there are many (including Vynca) that are trying to change this, and increase the comfort level and make it easier for clinicians to engage in these conversations, we are still years away from normalizing this conversation between providers and patients.

Advance Care Planning Resources

While these are difficult, and sometimes confusing conversations, there are many resources available. Here are a few I recommend to help both individuals and providers with advance care planning, including education, conducting conversations, as well as documenting care preferences.

PREPARE for your Care

PREPARE is an evidence-based online resource used to begin the process of making future medical decisions. By leveraging videos and easy-to-read materials, PREPARE helps individuals:

  • Have a voice in their medical care
  • Converse with their care team about advance care planning
  • Complete an advance directive; available in English and Spanish for all states, and Chinese is some states

PREPARE also provides free materials and toolkits for provider organizations. This is meant to guide and support advance care planning efforts across patient populations.

Five Wishes

Five Wishes offers an approach for individuals to discuss advance care planning with loved ones and healthcare providers, and document these care preferences through an advance directive document. They also offer comprehensive programs and resources for healthcare providers, as well as for other business sectors and community organizations.

The Conversation Project

The Conversation Project (the organization responsible for National Healthcare Decisions Day), offers free conversation guides to help individuals have ‘the conversation’ about their end-of-life care preferences. They also offer resources to help caregivers navigate these important conversations for those they are caring for.

Ariadne Labs

Ariadne Labs Serious Illness Care Program was created by a palliative care team to support clinicians engage their patients in conversations about their illness. The Serious Illness Conversation Guide helps guide these conversations, ensuring patients gain an understanding their illness, and documents their goals, values, and wishes.

Activities Supporting National Healthcare Decisions Day

Each year, I notice an increased number of organizations participate in and highlight the importance National Healthcare Decisions Day. Although many have moved to virtual over the past two years, I think this actually reaches and influences a broader audience, as they have many more options outside of in-person events.

Our partners, Triad Health Network and Cone Health are hosting a webinar, featuring a panel of clinicians from multiple disciplines, discussing the importance of advance care planning during the pandemic.

What Should You Do on National Healthcare Decisions Day?

As is the mission of the of the day, personally have ‘the conversation’ with loved ones, select a healthcare agent, and think about what truly matters most to you. Create an advance care plan if you have not done so already. If you have, review it and make sure it still accurately reflects your current goals and values. And make sure you share these wishes with your loved ones and with your healthcare providers.

If you are a clinician, participate in activities that your organization may be hosting. Spread the word on the importance of advance care planning today and everyday. Make sure your patients have the appropriate educational materials. Broach the subject with your patients. And if you do not feel comfortable having the conversation with them, refer them to a clinician to engage in an advance care planning conversation.

This conversation it too important to put off.

About the Author

Michael Kersten

Michael Kersten is the Director of Partner Solutions at Vynca. Prior to Vynca, Michael worked at Hill Physicians Medical Group where he was the founding director of the complex and serious illness department.

Michael holds an MPH from UC Berkeley School of Public Health, an MDiv from Naropa University, and a BS in Biology from SUNY at Albany.