Mother having healthcare conversation with daughter
April 17, 2019 | by Rebecca T. Ruud MD, MACP

Imagine you are in an accident or a sudden illness leaves you unable to speak for yourself. Your loved one or caregiver may be faced with a difficult decision about whether to continue life-saving measures. How does that person know what to do? There are three important steps to take to ensure your future care preferences are known and remove a burden from your family: discuss, decide, and document. April 15 to April 19 is National Healthcare Decisions Week – a time to educate and empower people of all ages to create their advance care plan.

According to the Conversation Project, more than 90 percent of people think it’s important to have conversations about end-of-life care with their loved ones, yet less than 30 percent have done so. Planning for major injuries or sudden illness may feel awkward, but timely conversations with family members can ensure your care preferences are honored and that your caregivers don’t have to guess what you might want.

It’s important to know that creating an advance care plan does not lock you into a set of decisions forever: they are highly individual, important at every age, and can be modified at any point. It’s simpler than you think to get started.

Here are a few tips:

Choose an advocate.

This should be someone who knows you well, is calm in a crisis, understands your preferences, is not afraid to ask questions of care providers and will advocate on your behalf. An advocate can be a close relative or friend, but should be someone you trust to follow your wishes.

Talk with your advocate and doctor about your future care preferences.

Let your advocate and doctors know what’s most important to you in life. What are the activities and abilities that make life most worth living for you? What are the things that give you comfort when you’re sick? When, if ever, should your advocate decide that it’s time to “let go”? And who else should they include in that decision? It may be helpful to schedule a separate visit with your doctor, just to talk through these questions so you can better define your wishes.

Write it down.

Formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. Learn more at

Give copies of your plan to your advocate, family members and doctors.

Make sure they are aware of your plan, and take some time to go over the document with them. Update and review the plan whenever your situation or preferences change, and have the document placed in your medical records.

It can be very chaotic if patients and families are suddenly faced with a health crisis and do not have a roadmap of personal wishes for their loved one. I have seen firsthand the sense of peace, calm, and satisfaction families experience when they know their loved one’s wishes have been fulfilled. You don’t want to make people guess what you want. It’s important to make your future care preferences known.