It’s no surprise that medical terms can confuse or even frighten patients. When you hear “advance directives,” what comes to mind? To many, it may sound like a higher level of treatment, or planning for the long term, which is a bit stressful. Patients who have questions may be unsure of who to turn to for guidance. Many feel it is pessimistic to plan for the end of life.
Our palliative care team at UF Health Jacksonville is dedicated to ensuring all patients and family members understand the importance of advance directives, namely that these are not actions to be afraid of, but to embrace. No matter the age or stage of a patient, our team encourages them to think about who they would entrust should something happen, as certain events can be uncontrollable.
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, which is a perfect time to stress the importance of making decisions for the future. Though this day makes us aware of the importance of health care decisions, our palliative care team stresses that these decisions are fluid and can change over time.
Not sure where to start or what advance directives even mean? Our experts chimed in to help answer common questions.
What is an advance directive?
Dr. Ravindra Maharaj, medical director of palliative care, explains, “an advance directive lets you indicate who you would want to make decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. It also lets you say exactly how you wish to be treated if you become seriously ill and cannot speak for yourself.”
How can an advance directive help patients and families?
Completing an advance directive helps guide conversations with family, friends and physicians about how you want to be treated if you become seriously ill. As Jayla Barnes, a palliative nurse practitioner, notes, “advance directives can help patients and families by prompting conversation, guiding through the tough topics and decisions and serving as a ‘road map’ throughout the course of disease.”
Who should prepare an advance directive?
“Everyone aged 18 or older is encouraged to prepare an advance directive,” says Neelie Sutton, a palliative nurse practitioner. Remember, these directives can be revisited and changed in the future, if needed.
Can I complete an advance directive by myself?
Yes, you can, as no other parties are necessary to be present. However, a lawyer may be helpful if you have access to one. Allison Martin, director of palliative care, suggests to make sure the person you list in your advance directive is aware and close enough to you. It’s important for the designated surrogate to be aware they have been chosen, informed of your wishes, and agreeable with honoring your wishes on your behalf.
Is there a cost involved?
There is no cost involved when completing an advanced directive.
Instead of fearing the future, embrace it. Advance directives can be completed at any stage or any age. Remember – it’s your life. You decide.
Have questions about advance directives or want to connect with our palliative care specialists? Go to UFHealthJax.org/palliative-care/ for more info or call 904-244-8821.
More resources on completing an advanced directive can be found on these sites: