by Laura E. Bender
To paraphrase Cartoonist Allen Saunders, “Death is what happens to you while you are making other plans.” That is why your health care system and health professionals who care for you at the end of life extend praise and gratitude to those who participate in Heartwork’s “Speaking of Dying” End-of-Life Planning workshops. Here are just five reasons why:
- Health care providers can promote better patient outcomes when a patient’s values are known.
When you specify your advanced directive, you have spent dedicated, intentional time thinking about, discussing, and documenting your values as it relates to health care decisions. Your care preferences are shaped by values, such as those included in your end-of-life plan. When those values are clear, providers benefit from the advice of people like you who have developed a general familiarity and comfort level around your intentions.
- When patients can articulate their preferences, health professionals are more confident that the care they are providing is patient-centered .
Health professionals appreciate first and foremost, a care plan that is centered on the patient. Having people like you who have gone through the process at least once of articulating care preferences could result in greater confidence among doctors, the broader care team, and the health system at large.
- Establishing an advance directive allows health care professionals to spend time and resources on other key tasks.
Health care providers can benefit from people like you who already have spent the time learning and reflecting on end-of-life directives outside of answering question s during a doctor’s visit. You are decreasing the overall time that many health professionals need to educate patients about options at the end of life. You also have a leg up on other patients who have never heard of advance care planning, advance directives, or of a health care power of attorney.
- You are creating greater demand on your care provider to participate in positive changes.
Few things change unless there is demand for change. As more people like you share your care preferences with professionals, continue to ask questions about advance care planning and options for care, the system will respond The response may come in the form of being able to better identify system barriers of meeting your care preferences, such as an ill-equipped electronic medical record system of recording your wishes and storing your advance directive. Knowing the barriers then allows health system professionals to think creatively to overcome those barriers. With pressure from patients, these barriers can be overcome because health care professionals can think creatively.
- We only get good at what we practice.
You have begun your practice of how to talk about end-of-life health care options and discerning your preferences. The familiarity you gain with such conversations may result in greater comfort and less fear about having this type of conversation with your doctor. When you are confident enough to approach your doctors or other health professionals about advance care planning, you bring a special gift. Doctors now have an opportunity to practice having that kind of conversation with you. Their communication skills will improve not just for future conversations with you, but for advance care planning conversations with other patients as well. Doctors may be uncomfortable having advanced care planning conversations, as most anyone would be, if they have not practiced. Demonstrating your level of comfort may be encouraging for doctors to more openly practice and grow their own comfort.
Thanks for your all the time you spent on end-of-life planning. You are benefiting yourself, your loved ones, and those most important to you in your life. At the same time, you are generating positive, needed change within your health care system and among your health care professionals.
Laura E. Bender is a PhD student in Health Services Research at the University of Washington, School of Public Health. You can reach Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.