Advance care planning is an important aspect of helping people to take control of their own health, says Dr Barry Snow, clinical lead of the National Advance Care Planning Cooperative.
“An advance care plan helps patients to clarify their thinking about what’s important to them as they near the end of their life.
“Sharing their plan with their family and health care team can make their treatment approach clearer and easier to follow and support what matters to them.”
Wednesday 5 April is Conversations that Count Day, which encourages people to think about, talk about and plan for their future and end-of-life care. The theme for this year is ‘Get them talking’.
Dr Snow says an advance care plan is especially important if a patient is no longer able to speak for themselves.
“The plan should say, for example, who they want involved in decisions about their care and treatment and the care they want and don’t want. If your patient does not have an advance care plan, you can suggest it to them – no matter what their age or state of health.”
The advance care planning website (http://www.advancecareplanning.org.nz) has a number of free resources to make advance care planning easier for health professionals and their patients, including a downloadable ‘Advance care plan and guide’ for people to enter their information and save. Printed versions are also available.
“Patients may want to discuss their advance care plan with members of their health care team and may need helping filling out the ‘When I am dying’ and ‘My treatment and care choices’ sections.”
The face of this year’s Conversations that Count Day is Arthur Te Anini (Ngāti Whanaunga), who has COPD, which he knows will limit his life. He has completed an advance care plan that tells his whānau and health care team what’s important to him and the end-of-life care he’d like.
The ex army man says the idea of an advance care plan appealed to him straight away. “It presents clear information, not just for me, but for my family and medical team too.
“For example, if I reach the stage where I can’t speak and prolonging my life would be futile, I don’t want to be kept alive by having a feeding tube or being hooked up to machines. My advance care plan was an opportunity to say that to my medical team, while I could.”
Arthur’s plan also says that if he is unable to speak for himself it’s important to him that he is “kept presentable – clean shaven, fingernails cut and wearing clean clothes. Where I am isn’t important to me, but I’d like to hear familiar voices singing and talking”.
Dr Snow says many people see having an advance care plan as an important gift as it can relieve loved ones of the burden of having to make decisions on their behalf.
Arthur Te Anini agrees. “It’s a huge relief to have done my advance care plan and to know that my whānau and my health care team are aware of it. I can still change it at any time, but it means I am free to enjoy my life.”
The ACP Cooperative is a national collective tasked with driving a collaborative approach to the design and implementation of ACP in New Zealand. See http://www.advancecareplanning.org.nz/ for details and information on advance care planning training for health professionals.