Elderly couple with a nurse

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” – Benjamin Franklin.

In homage to Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) has been held the day after the tax deadline (April 16) since 2008. Created to educate and empower the public and healthcare providers, this annual awareness event promotes advance care planning. Individuals are encouraged to share healthcare wishes with family, providers and loved ones before a health crisis prevents the conversation.

Michelle Lauckner Headshot“Having these conversations early, without the pressure of a mortal injury or lethal diagnoses, allows for a better, reflective decision-making process. It’s a gift to your loved ones to know your wishes before they are forced to make decisions for you,” explained Michelle Lauckner, RN, BA, RAC-CT, IP-BC, Great Plains Quality Innovation Network (QIN) quality improvement advisor and North Dakota Honoring Choices board member.

While advance care planning includes technical and legal tasks, the main goal is for individuals to express what matters most and how they want to be treated at the end of life. Two key steps include completing an advance directive (also known as a living will) and appointing an individual to serve as a healthcare power of attorney, which allows them to make healthcare decisions if a person is unable to communicate.

“Once a person is in need of these crucial decisions, it is often too late for them to contribute to the conversation; and the loved ones are left to guess what that person would have wanted,” Lauckner added.

Discussions about advance care planning can be uncomfortable and difficult. However, just like taxes, planning and preparation can make these conversations easier. Making health decisions and putting them in writing, brings peace of mind to the individual and their loved ones. In addition, caregivers have the tools and power to advocate when individuals are unable speak for themselves.

National Healthcare Decisions Day is a great opportunity to offer the support of trained healthcare professionals by sponsoring an advance care planning event.  Some excellent toolkits are available from the Conversation Project and from Honoring Choices North Dakota, including social media post and other outreach options as alternatives to in-person events.