What do you really want?
Spring is a time for thinking about life—flowers are blooming, temperatures are rising. And, thinking about life also means it’s a good time for honest conversations about one aspect many people avoid—your end of life care preferences.
If you ask people in advance where they’d like to spend their final days, chances are they would describe being at home, in a peaceful environment. Yet, more than half of people die in hospitals. The top cause of death in today’s ICUs is the decision to withdraw support.
Do you know what you or your loved ones would want if faced with that situation? If you said no, you’re in good company. The better news is there’s an easy way for you and your family to track your preferences. April 16 kicks off National Healthcare Decisions week, and ThedaCare is part of the Fox Valley Advance Care Planning Partnership, along with Ascension, Mosaic Family Health and the former End of Life coalition. We’ve worked together to make sure local health systems are on the same page, and that patients and families fill out one common advance directive document instead of multiple.
ThedaCare’s approach is built on the “Honoring Choices” model that originated in La Crosse, where more than 95 percent of patients admitted to the hospital have their end-of-life preferences on file. That’s compared with only about 20 percent nationwide and 50 percent in the Appleton area. This work truly is a community priority, not just a health system priority.
When I was a practicing physician, I led and saw resuscitation attempts, which sadly have a much lower success rate than shown on TV. I always made a point with my nursing home patients to discuss what they’d like to happen if they experienced a heart attack or stopped breathing.
There is no right or wrong choice. It’s about giving people the voice to live their last chapter with dignity, according to their wishes. Doctors and nurses are wonderful at all types of medicine and many of us build lasting relationships with our patients, but even we can’t predict how people would choose to end their care. Elderly patients, for example, are sometimes living for a specific event, like the birth of grandchild. They may make a different life decision before or after that birth.
It’s an important conversation for you, and for your spouse and children. In a health crisis, the family’s default position is to do everything possible to save their loved one. By having your own preferences outlined, you alleviate the burden and debate for them.
In my family, we’ve had an end-of-life planning document for 30 years. While my kids’ initial reaction was, “Well, we don’t need to have that conversation, because you’ll live forever,” they do understand the importance.
Each time you encounter a significant medical illness or new condition, it’s an opportunity to re-engage around this conversation with your family and your doctor. For young people heading off to college, it’s especially important to talk about having a Power of Attorney, for example, because parents don’t retain rights over their adult children.
Here’s a helpful way to start: You want people to follow your wishes if you get sick, right? If that’s important to you, we think it makes sense to talk about a simple way to make sure that happens. Let’s have a conversation
As business leaders, you’ve likely planned an exit strategy. And we’ve all heard the two unavoidable truths in life: death and taxes. You’ve filed your taxes this month. What are doing to prepare for the other?
— Dr. Dean Gruner is president and CEO of Appleton-based ThedaCare. To send your thoughts to him, email email@example.com.