By Julie Sayre, MA, LSW, LMFT Social Work Manager at Hospice of the Panhandle

I was at a doctor’s office the other day and had to fill out the basic “new patient” paperwork before an appointment. All the normal questions were on the form, including name, address, insurance and emergency contact person. As I was completing the form, I had a realization. We, all of us, put down “emergency contacts” on paperwork all the time without blinking. It is just part of the process to complete the paperwork for doctor’s appointment. If there was an emergency, they would call that contact person to alert them and possibly ask them for guidance on next steps for our care. In other words, isn’t filling out our “emergency contacts” on a doctor’s office paper the first step in starting the conversation about advance directives? If so, then why do we hesitate to identify a medical power of attorney for ourselves? We do it every time we fill in an emergency contact on a form. Let’s talk about it!

National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16, and this year’s theme is “Talk about it.” Talk about your health care goals with your family, friends and medical providers. Take the opportunity to have a conversation with your loved ones about what matters to you regarding your health care. Use this day as an “excuse” to bring up a conversation that might feel awkward otherwise.

I recently heard someone say that they believe that advance care planning is 80% the conversation and 20% the documents. But this is not just one conversation, it is many. These are conversations that must be ongoing as your life changes because your decisions may and can change. I encourage you to talk to your friends and family often about their health care preferences.

As a social worker, I have advance directive conversations often and wanted to share common misconceptions that people have about making advance directives.

Some common misconceptions about making advance directives:

  • Once I make a decision, it can never be changed. Not true! If you make a decision now and change your mind later, you can always update your documents.
  • If we talk about something bad, it will happen. Not true! I can’t tell you the number of times that families ask me not to have conversations about what their loved one wants at the end of life because “it” might happen. I hate to tell you, but whether we talk about something or not, life and death happen anyway. The difference is that with advance directives and related conversations, you can honor what your loved ones want because you are aware of their goals. You aren’t left guessing and hoping it is what they would have wanted.
  • Conversations about the end of life will make us sad. It feels like we are giving up on things. Not true! Having conversations about health care goals shows your loved ones that you care enough to listen and that you want to be around to care for them! Having these conversations will help you know your loved ones better.

So the questions remain, who’s your emergency contact—or dare I ask medical power of attorney? And what matters to you in your health care? You can have a say in your care by answering these questions now.

We can help you talk about it! Call Hospice of the Panhandle to request a Personalized Resource Guide and a social worker will assist you with the resources and forms you need to complete your advance directives.

Julie Sayre is the social work manager at Hospice of the Panhandle and has worked for the organization for eight years. Sayre is a licensed social worker and licensed marriage and family therapist.