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National Healthcare Decisions Week: Taking The Time To Plan

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April 16 to April 22 is National Healthcare Decisions Week - A week set aside to encourage all of us to discuss and document important health care wishes before a stressful health crisis occurs.

These wishes can include decisions about what we value most should we become seriously ill or have a disease that is progressing. Advance care planning allows for the documentation of treatment preferences so our wishes can be followed should we become ill.

It can be tough to get started. It may even feel a bit awkward, but powerful conversations with family members today can ensure end-of-life care preferences are honored and reduce stress and uncertainty in the future. Planning today means that you can take comfort tomorrow in knowing that your loved ones will receive the treatments they want, and be protected from the care that they do not want or value.

According to a national survey by The Conversation Project, more than 90% of the people think it is important to talk about their loved ones' and their own wishes for end-of-life care, but fewer than 30% of people have actually had these important conversation. Many people simply have not gotten around to taking the necessary steps to make their health care wishes known. Sometimes people do not know how to start the conversation with their loved ones.

A great way to start is by thinking about what is most important to you if you or your loved ones were facing a life threatening or progressive illness and then you can move on to thoughtful and open conversations with those you love. Here are some steps to help get the conversation started:

  • Think about what is most important to you. What things in life are so important, you cannot imagine living without them? What are you worried about most should you become ill? Who would you prefer to make medical decisions on your behalf with your physicians if you could not?
  • Talk with your loved ones. Honest communication can help families avoid the stress of guessing what a family member would have wanted. Be open with each other and focus on really understanding the views of those you love. You may find that you and your loved ones may see some things differently. That's okay. Talk through it, listen and keep an open mind. Sometimes it is helpful to say "tell me more" when you're stuck.
  • Make it official. Once you have had the conversation, formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. There are several ways to do this. An advance directive can help describe your medical wishes when you no longer can. Special medical orders can be developed with your doctor. Finally, a health care proxy identifies your health care agent-the person you trust to act on your behalf if you are unable to make your own medical decisions .
  • Get help. You can find valuable resources to help you think through these issues and make decisions more manageable here and here.

Advance care planning is a process that happens over time and more often when someone is facing a serious illness. Knowing what patients want and value helps ensure people get the care they want. I have seen firsthand improved quality of life and the sense of peace, calm and satisfaction families experience knowing their loved one's health care wishes are followed.



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Geoffrey Gloak

may be one of the few people you meet who is always glad to talk taxes. He has spent 17 years immersed in government communications – almost entirely in the tax field. He currently serves as the Director of Public Relations at the New York State Tax Department. In each of Geoff’s positions, he has created opportunities to transform the communications environment for the benefit of the organization. Under his leadership, Tax Department public relations have shifted from a reactive focus to proactive outreach. Most recently, Geoff led the STAR Registration media campaign to assist 2 million homeowners with property tax relief while eliminating fraud. As a result of extensive press outreach, more than 300 articles were printed in daily papers alone, and broadcast media repeatedly covered the story in each corner of the state. Less than 5 months after launch, 2.3 million homeowners had registered for their property tax exemptions. Geoff (@gloak23) lives in Kinderhook with his journalist wife, Kristi Berner (@kristiberner), and 4-year-old daughter, Gemma, who is now proud to be able to write her name.