April 14, 2017

What comes after Tax Day?

A National Healthcare Decision Day reminder to make your wishes known.

Jane Hall knew her father was experiencing heart trouble. And while she knew he was receiving high quality medical care, she also knew he needed to plan for the future.

“Many people, like my parents, aren’t planners,” said Hall, who is a Kaiser Permanente member, like her father. “We knew my dad’s heart wasn’t well and encouraged him to see an attorney to do his advance directives. That’s what my husband and I had done several years ago as part of a financial trust. But for my dad, it was his cardiologist who brought it up as part of a larger conversation and made an advance-care planning appointment.”

Sometimes called living wills, advanced directives designate who we’d like to speak on our behalf and specify our choices about medical care treatments. While many of us know about advance directives, few of us have them.

That’s not surprising, says attorney Nathan Kottkamp, who founded National Healthcare Decision Day 10 years ago, after serving on hospital ethics committees.

People don’t like to talk about our own death or disability. What was needed, Kottkamp decided, was an annual reminder encouraging adults of all ages to put our wishes in writing, before a health crisis occurs.

Kaiser Permanente makes it easy 

This year, the 10th annual National Healthcare Decision Day has been extended to a full week (April 16-22), to draw attention to the importance of making our medical care treatment wishes known in advance. Throughout the week and beyond, Kaiser Permanente is offering information and classes for members, and its Life Care Planning website is always available to the public.  screen shot of KP Life Care Planning Website

On Kaiser Permanente’s Life Care Planning website, people can review short videos by physicians, staff and members talking about what Life Care Planning is, gain insight into what values and situations to consider, and check out answers to common questions. It also has instructions to create advance directives which vary slightly by state, for California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

At Kaiser Permanente, “we are about person-centered care, health, and respect, and our vision is that all adults have their wishes known and honored,” says Matt Handley, MD, medical director for Quality and Safety at Washington Permanente Medical Group, which provides care for Kaiser Permanente members in Washington.

headshot of Matt Handley Matt Handley, MD

The organization’s Life Care Planning program supports adults of all ages in making advance care plans, so their health care wishes are documented and can be honored if there comes a time they are unable to speak for themselves.

Building on the success Hall had with her father’s advanced care plans, she and her husband turned their attention to their 21-year old daughter, who goes to college in a different state. “We realized we wouldn’t be able to legally speak for her over the phone. My husband and I also realized a safe deposit box wasn’t the best place to store our advance directives.”

Now, all three generations of the Hall family are in the process of finalizing their advance wishes, which will become part of their electronic health records.

“We don’t want anything to happen,” said Hall, “but we want to be prepared, and Kaiser Permanente has done its members a favor by making it easy and a priority to do.”

Curious why April 16 was selected as National Healthcare Decision Day? The date was inspired by Ben Franklin’s adage: Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.