Symptoms can worsen suddenly with COVID-19, leaving no time to have conversations about what we want our care to look like when we are sick. So, it’s important that we have thoughtful discussions with our loved ones before we are seriously ill.
As the Acute Care Director of Palliative Medicine at a hospital in Georgia, Anjali Grandhige, MD, has coordinated care for many patients to meet their spiritual, emotional, and medical needs during times of serious illness. Based on her experiences, she has advice for all of us as we think about what we may want our healthcare journey to look like.
Advance care planning includes a couple of concrete steps.
- Put your thoughts in writing: Coming up with a written plan means thinking about what you value most in terms of quality of life and acceptable outcomes. When you write it down it’s called an advance care directive. “Some people want machines and every last effort; some people want a natural death--maybe even at home. There is no right or wrong answer, there is only what is right for you.”
- Designate people that know your wishes and can act on your behalf: Choose one or two people you can trust to be your healthcare powers of attorney, so they can be your voice if you are not able to speak for yourself. “Clearly stating your wishes in writing relieves your healthcare powers of attorney from the pressure of having to contemplate how you would have liked them to make life or death decisions on your behalf. In many ways, clear directive is a gift to them, letting them know they are simply carrying out stated wishes.”
Share copies of your advance care plans. Give a copy of your advance care directive to your powers of attorney and share a copy with your doctor. It might also be a good idea to bring it with you if you need care at a hospital.
Advance are planning is not just important for COVID-19. Grandhige advises that we should all create advance directive plans. “This is never something we like to think about or talk about, but none of us knows what tomorrow brings… as a physician, I want to know that I am caring for you the way you would want me to.”
Though concerns about COVID-19 may bring a sense of urgency to advance care planning, discussions about our personal values and goals for care are always important. Grandhige notes that from her years practicing palliative care medicine, “advance care planning gives your healthcare team the blueprint for how to best honor you and your individual wishes.”