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Advance Care Planning: Three Tips for Making Personal Health Decisions

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times, and Round Rock Leader
Every day we are faced with decisions – 35,000 of them, according to researchers at Cornell University. Some decisions are subconscious, meaning we don’t even realize our brains are making them for us. Other decisions are as simple as what to eat for lunch or what shirt to wear, while others are much more complex, require deep consideration, and significantly impact our lives. Health-related decisions fall into that category. While we can do our best to make the right decisions, no one truly knows what the future holds. Advance care planning is the process of learning about the choices you have for your future medical care, and how you want to be treated if you are unable to speak for yourself. It empowers us to make decisions for the future of our health and plan for the unknown.

Discussions around advance care planning are different for everyone, and may also depend on your current health. These serious conversations are made easier in an environment where an informed patient is supported and encouraged.

As you consider advance care planning, here are three tips for fostering conversations that are productive, meaningful, and put you in the driver’s seat of your future healthcare:
  • Remember you’re not alone. While advance care planning is highly personal, it’s not something a patient should take on alone. Family and friends, who know you well and care about you, can offer invaluable emotional support. It’s also important to work with professionals who are trained to guide patients through the trajectory of their healthcare journey. They answer questions, initiate important conversations, help you set goals, and provide counseling. They also ensure your wishes are implemented into your treatment plan. This support spans all aspects of care, including treatment choice, palliative care and, in many cases, hospice and end-of-life care. It’s also an opportunity for those closest to you to consider their own health-related decisions.
  • Share what’s important to you. Our values and beliefs reflect who we are. Medical diagnosis and health issues can change a lot, but that doesn’t change the core of who a person is. Personal values, perspectives, and cultural and religious beliefs give us strength in times of weakness – they’re also invaluable when it comes toadvance care planning. Ensuring a patient’s values and beliefs are incorporated into healthcare decisions gives medical teams, families and caregivers confidence that the actions and choices about care that are made along the way are respectful of their patient’s or loved one’s wishes– now and in the future.
  • Explore your options. Advance care planning is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The decisions are as unique to each patient as part of their individualized treatment plan. They’re decisions about your life and your health, and exploring all options can help guide your decision making. Ultimately, having open dialogue about medical directives allows patients to have control of decisions regardless of the outcome and may offer peace of mind for caregivers and loved ones.
As oncologists and medical professionals, we always hope for the best with cancer treatment. We also want our patients to have a plan for everything, including their future medical care and how they want to live the rest of their life. At Texas Oncology, I’m proud to work with advance care planning professionals who are dedicated to helping patients make decisions that will be respected throughout the cancer journey.

This article originally appeared in the May issues of: