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What to Know About Advance Care Planning

What to Know About Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning is the process of preparing for future medical care, particularly if you become seriously ill and/or unable to communicate your wishes. 

Yet, just 1 in 5 adults has a medical power of attorney—a responsible adult who will be your voice if you cannot speak for yourself in a medical emergency or during a serious health issue. “Taking these steps in advance care planning is important for everyone age 18 and older,” says James K. VanKirk, MD, a board-certified palliative care specialist at Winchester Medical Center and Warren Memorial Hospital. “It’s not complicated. You do not need a lawyer. And Valley Health can help.”  

Advance care planning has two parts: 

• The first is choosing your medical power of attorney (POA), also called a medical agent or healthcare proxy. “This can be an adult relative or close friend,” Dr. VanKirk explains. “Having a medical POA who knows your wishes takes a burden off your loved ones in a crisis.” There’s less doubt and confusion and more certainty you’re receiving the care you want. Once your medical POA agrees, it’s important to fill out a document naming them as such and have it witnessed by two unrelated adults (for Virginia residents) or witnessed and notarized (for West Virginia residents). “Give the original document to your medical POA. Give copies to your family and your doctors and have it included in your electronic medical record,” Dr. VanKirk suggests. “Make sure your family knows who you have named.” 

• The second part is making your values and wishes about medical care known to your medical POA and your loved ones. This can be spelled out in a living will or advance directive, “but the important part is having conversations about it,” Dr. VanKirk says. “Since every single medical situation is different, I encourage people to think not about specific treatments but about the quality of life they would like to have. You may be OK with being bed-bound provided you can see family and watch your favorite sports teams. Or you may feel life isn’t worth living if you can’t continue the activities you love. How much treatment are you willing to undergo? What limits are you willing to live with? This will change over your lifetime, so it’s important to have this conversation every year.” 

Find medical power of attorney and advance directive forms on the Valley Health website at Valley Health also has a team of retired healthcare practitioners ready to give presentations about advance care planning to local organizations 
and assist individuals in the process. For more information about goals-of-care conversations, call the Palliative Care office at Winchester Medical Center at 540-536-5404.