By Becky Carter
Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital
As we welcome the beauty and warmer temps of spring, it’s also an ideal time to do a little spring cleaning, and our file cabinets are a great place to start. Papers seem to multiply so quickly in our homes and offices, but a range of health-related papers are vital to keep up-to-date, always: Advanced Medical Directive, Living Will, and Healthcare Power of Attorney forms are essentials for every family. The information within these documents tells family and healthcare providers about your wishes for life-extending treatment and other matters, if you cannot make your wishes known yourself due to a health emergency or serious illness.
Tuesday, April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day, when we’re reminded about the importance of having conversations about these issues with loved ones and family members – before an emergency occurs.
Serious illness and end-of-life issues are not on anyone’s list of favorite conversation topics of course, but it’s critical that we make the time to do it. We all know that hospitalization can require that decisions be made quickly, and questions about a patient’s preferences for treatment can actually affect access to care, which is a sobering fact. If a patient’s preferences are known – before a crisis occurs – treatments can be given according to their specifications, without delay.
These family conversations pose such questions as what role we want medical technology to play, for example, in extending our lives. This and other questions can be answered if we fill out an Advanced Medical Directive, a Living Will, and a Healthcare Power of Attorney. Each document serves a different purpose, but all act in concert to ensure that there is total clarity around a patient’s preferences and who will be their voice if they are not able to communicate with caregivers.
It can be confusing to differentiate the most widely used forms, so here’s a brief and simple explanation:
- Advanced Medical Directives are legal documents, including Living Wills and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, that guide family and caregivers to make medical decisions if a patient is not able to do so
- The Healthcare Power of Attorney form stipulates an individual who has been assigned the role of medical care decision maker for a patient
- A Living Will addresses specific situations that occur during hospitalizations in which life-or-death decisions must be made. Examples of these decisions include a patient’s choices about Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), receiving nutrition with a tube, use of technology that sustains breathing, organ donation, and other elective options.
It’s important when choosing someone to act as a medical decision maker that the patient have an open, trusting relationship with them and that they in turn are completely willing to take on this responsibility. Advanced Medical Directives allow each patient to customize emergency and end-of-life care so that they will not receive interventions they don’t want; they should also be periodically revisited so a patient can reassess a decision if they wish, and updates should always be shared with one’s physician.
In the spirit of National Healthcare Decisions Day, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital (BRRH) has planned an educational event for community members on Advanced Care Directives and medical decision making. It will take place on April 16th from 10am-2pm in the main hospital lobby. We’ll also distribute free samples of the Advanced Directive Short Form, a type of directive that’s legally valid yet user-friendly, simplified, and understandable.
Everyone at BRRH will do all we can to partner with our patients and their families in an effort to ensure that their medical decision making affairs are in order. If everyone is “on the same page,” about caring for a patient, treatment can be provided more quickly and confusion, disagreement, and even guilt about medical decisions will not be a concern. Planning for an unexpected medical emergency or serious condition is a kindness one can give to themselves, their loved ones, and their caregivers.
Rebecca W. Carter, MSN, RN, FACHE is Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Carter has served in senior hospital management for over 20 years and previously served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard, also a part of the Mission Health system.
Ms. Carter is board certified in healthcare management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE). A native of North Carolina, she holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Carter is currently a resident of Burnsville.