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Planning Ahead for Peace of Mind: How an Advance Care Conversation Educator Can Help

Planning Ahead for Peace of Mind: How an Advance Care Conversation Educator Can Help

If you become seriously ill or injured and can’t speak for yourself, who should speak for you? What types of treatment would you want—or not want?

A medical advance directive makes your wishes known to your family and care providers. In the Winchester area, about 20 percent of people have an advance directive. Hoping to increase that number and improve care in our community, Valley Health is enlisting retired caregivers to help people create one at no cost. One of these Advance Care Conversation Educators, geriatrician Cyril Barch, MD, explains how the program works.

Q: Who should have an advance directive, and why?
A: We recommend that everyone 18 years and over have an advance directive. None of us knows when an accident or medical condition may leave us unable to communicate. An advance directive identifies the person who will make medical decisions on our behalf and who knows our specific wishes about our care.

Q: How does the program work?
A: We mail out a conversation starter guide to help you talk to the person you’ve identified as your medical agent [the person who will make decisions on your behalf if you cannot]. Advance Care Conversation Educators will meet with you at the Palliative Care office at Winchester Medical Center. You are encouraged to bring your medical agent to that meeting and any other people you deem important to your care. We are also available to talk at events, organizations and civic club meetings. We use the Five Wishes form [], which is nationally based and transferable among 45 states.

Along with the conversation starter guide, we mail out the Five Wishes document ahead of time so that you can discuss it with the people important to you. The form will be completed at your appointment, where we will address any questions you might have. An important topic to discuss is life support. You may have strong feelings about being placed on artificial life support. We can provide some medical background as to situations where this might become an issue and discuss whether it’s consistent with your values and goals.

Q: What if my wishes change?
A: These documents should be reviewed regularly and can always be changed. We encourage you to schedule follow-up visits if you would like help updating your documents.

Q: How do you make an appointment with an Advance Care Conversation Educator?
A: You can call 540-536-5437 to set up a free appointment. You do not need a referral from your physician.
To learn more about advance directives, visit