5 Steps to Create an Effective Healthcare Directive

5 Steps to Create an Effective Healthcare Directive

An effective healthcare directive protects both you and your family’s peace of mind.

Rick Warren’s seminal work, The Purpose Driven Life, has sold more than 30 million copies. His book inspires people to explore the question what on earth am I here for? The very first sentence of his book begins, “It’s not about you.”

Could the same be true of your death? What if the end of your life is not just about you?

effective healthcare directives

Through my years of writing and speaking on end-of-life choices, I’ve heard countless stories of good deaths and even more of horrible, awful deaths. Quite often, those lucky souls who experienced a good death were the people who realized that their eventual passing could be a time of blessing or tumult for loved ones. Most importantly, these folks recognized the responsibility to create a roadmap that could lead family members through this difficult yet sacred journey with peace of mind.

An effective healthcare directive requires more than a checked box on a boilerplate form.

The roadmap for you and your family to navigate through the final weeks, days and hours of your life is your healthcare directive. The art of writing a truly meaningful and effective healthcare directive is not commonly understood. Many people assume that checking a box on a boilerplate form will suffice. It won’t. Your family needs more from you than a box that says Do Not Resuscitate.

Following these 5 steps will ensure you create an effective healthcare directive.

Step 1: Clearly communicate your medical preferences.

Spell out your treatment choices and explain the reasons for your decisions. By framing your preferences within the context of your values, beliefs, and your personal reflections on what makes life worth living, you’ll support your decision-makers with a framework they can use when wrestling with difficult choices.

Step 2: Choose your decision-makers (healthcare agents) wisely.

Select your decision-makers based upon skill, not just your relationship. You need to choose healthcare agents who will zealously advocate for your wishes—even if they disagree—so you receive all of the care, but only the care, you desire. Help your agents learn about hospice and palliative care so they can proactively promote your comfort.

Step 3: Express your needs for emotional, physical and spiritual care.

Help your loved ones understand how to give you comfort through your final weeks and days of life. Provide the details that will equip them to love you and care for you in ways that are meaningful for you. For example, my directive asks my family to:

  • put my glasses on during the day
  • play music in my room during my waking hours
  • request a pastoral visit (and I’ve included contact information)
  • keep my fingernails filed so I don’t get accidentally scratched when I itch
  • pluck any chin hairs before I have visitors

Step 4: Share your treatment preferences and care needs with those who need to know.

Your wishes can only be honored if you have verbally communicated your preferences to your healthcare agents and medical team and given them a copy of your legally executed healthcare directive. Take the time to walk your family through your wishes to prepare them for what might come in the future. This is truly an act of love and could spare your family from painful conflict in a medical crisis.

Step 5: Make sure your documents are accessible when needed.

In a crisis, your healthcare directive must be readily accessible. Make certain your directive is part of your medical record: Give a copy to your physician and ask to see the document properly linked in your electronic medical record. As importantly, your agents will require paper copies and/or online access to your directives. Everplans.com offers a terrific option for storing all sorts of end-of-life documents.

Not sure how to start? Help is available.

If you’re like most adults, you haven’t started your directive yet. That’s probably because you’ve never been taught how to talk about end-of-life decisions. It’s not natural and doesn’t come easy for most people. You’re not alone.

Healthcare Directives from the Heart will teach you how to write and communicate an effective healthcare directive. Check it out.


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