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January 7, 2011

Plan for your healthcare future on April 16

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Americans are more likely to talk to their children about sex and drug use than they are to speak to a seriously ill parent about his or her end-of-life wishes, according to a 2008 national survey by the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative.

Friday, April 16 is the second National Healthcare Decisions Day. The University of Virginia Health System will be encouraging its employees and central Virginia residents to complete an advance directive, a document that allows adults to specify what kinds of medical treatments they would want and who they would want making decisions about their care if they were unable to make decisions for themselves.

“I think there’s an assumption that advance directives are only for people with terminal illnesses,” said Cindy Westley, RN-BC, MSN, ANP-C, a patient educator at the University of Virginia Health System. “But sadly, even healthy young adults can become seriously ill or injured and suddenly be unable to make decisions about their care. Many times, those are the hardest situations for the families because they never anticipated that situation, and they may not know what their loved one would want.”

This year, Virginia’s advance directives laws have changed. Previously, they only covered healthcare wishes for terminally ill patients. Now, patients can name a surrogate decision-maker and specify their wishes for any situation in which they are incapable of making decisions for themselves, such as during an episode of mental illness.

“For example, a person with depression might know that when he is severely depressed, he can really benefit from electric shock treatment,” Westley said. “But he might protest that treatment during the episode of depression. So when he is not depressed, he can work with his doctor and fill out the advance directive stating what the treatment plan is and then have the treatment done, knowing that it will help him in the long run.”

Everyone 18 years and older should consider having an advance directive and naming a surrogate decision maker. On Friday, UVA Health System will have information about advance directives available in the main cafeteria for employees, patients and visitors. If you are interested in doing a story about advance directives, contact the Public Relations office at 434.924.5679. Virginia’s advance directives form can be found at .

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