What is advance care planning (ACP)?

Only one person is truly qualified to tell your health care providers how you feel about different issues—and that’s YOU.

Some people believe that doctors know best and should make all the decisions. However, a patient’s values and goals are very important and should guide decisions about their treatment. Your health care providers have technical knowledge and years of experience. But without your help, they can’t know what’s best for you given your specific medical situation.

Every patient is different. Two patients with the same condition can have very different ideas about what kind of treatment they want. Have you thought about what kinds of medical care you would choose if you couldn’t tell your providers what you wanted?

Through advance care planning, you can help ensure that your wishes will guide your future health care.

Advance care planning steps:

a spokesperson who can speak for you if you can't speak for yourself.

about what you would want if you had to make difficult choice.

about your views with your spokesperson, loved ones and health care providers.

an advance directive to document your preferences.

a personal letter or audio or video recording to share your wishes.

Why plan ahead

One reason is that different people want different things. You may know someone like Mrs. Kingsley.

One reason is that different people want different things. You may know someone like Mrs. Kingsley. She has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. She can't recognize her family anymore. She also can't do many of the things she used to do to take care of herself, like eating on her own. The aides in the nursing home lovingly care for her, and mostly she seems content.

Mrs. Kingsley has developed pneumonia and needs to go to the hospital for treatment with intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Her doctors say that this treatment will probably restore her to the life she had before. However, many people who are transferred from nursing homes to hospitals become confused and upset. Also, because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, Mrs. Kingsley's condition will keep getting worse. She may have more serious cases of pneumonia in the future, as well as other serious medical complications.

Consider the thoughts of Mr. Johnson and Ms. Santini. They are both deeply religious, yet they have very different views about health care.

I can't stand the thought of being unable to recognize my family! Pneumonia might not be such a bad way to pass away. I would tell my family, “Please don’t send me to the hospital. Just make me comfortable in the nursing home.”
- Mr. Johnson

If I'm ever in this situation, I'd want to go to the hospital for those IV antibiotics. As long as I was not in terrible pain all the time, I would want to extend my days in the nursing home for as long as possible.
- Ms. Santini

Other reasons for planning ahead are:
  • To help you obtain the treatment and care you want, and avoid treatments that you do not want
  • To reduce the stress and burden on your loved ones
  • To reduce the risk of conflict in future medical decisions (between family members or between health care providers and family members).
Start your advance care planning by identifying your health care circumstances
While Healthy
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While Living With a Significant Medical Condition.
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For Mental Healthcare
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For Care Near The End of Life
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