When it comes to the subject of Advance Care Planning, for many it is a case of ‘There’s always time to do it later”, until it is too late. It often takes a life limiting – or threatening – illness/condition for people to really start planning for the end of their life. Ideally though, the process of developing your Advance Care Plan should begin as soon as you are 18 and continue to be revisited/revised throughout your life.
What is an Advance Care Plan?
An Advance Care Plan (ACP) is your way of communicating to both your loved ones and doctors – when you are unable to – what medical treatment you do and do not wish to receive towards the end of your life. You can lose the ability to speak for yourself because of advanced dementia, illness, accident, stroke, or the process of dying itself. An advance care plan helps to ensure any treatment you receive respects your personal beliefs and wishes in regards sustaining your life.
It consists of two key elements:
- The Advance Care Directive – the document in which you outline your wishes and values.
- The name(s) of your Substitute Decision Maker(s)
Along with these two elements, it is important to take the time to discuss in depth the details of the plan with your family, doctors and any trusted advisors that may be involved in your future care. It is also vital that you ensure anyone named as a substitute decision-maker understands what is involved and agrees to be one.
When is an Advance Care Plan used?
An ACP only comes into effect when you are unable to make – or voice – your own decisions in regard to any medical treatment that may be used to sustain your life. Most often this is in the case of a medical emergency when time is of the essence and doctors need to know as quickly as possible how best they can treat you.
What difference does it make?
Healthcare professionals agree that medical outcomes for people and their families are improved when they have discussed and documented their concerns, preferences and choices about care in advance.
In an emergency, where you are unable to communicate and a copy of your ACP is not immediately available (or if there isn’t one in existence), doctors will have to make initial medical decisions – which may include life-prolonging measures – until discussions can be had with your family or representative to understand your wishes.
This may mean that treatment is delayed. For loved ones, having to make possibly life changing decisions under these conditions can be extremely stressful – particularly if there are conflicting opinions about what you would want; this, in turn, wastes valuable time which could be better used to treat you in the way you would want.
How is an Advance Care Plan different from a Living Will or Advance Care Directive?
An Advance Care Plan is often called a Living Will. They can also be called an Advance Care Directive, Advance Health Plan or Statement of Choice depending on your Country or State.
Does it include Power of Attorney and/or Enduring Guardianship?
No. An Enduring Power of Attorney is a legal document where you appoint someone you trust to manage your assets and financial affairs if you are unable to do so due to illness, an accident or your absence. This is different from Power of Attorney which becomes null and void if you lose mental capacity and after death.
A Medical Power of Attorney (also referred to as Enduring Guardianship) allows you to appoint someone to make decisions about your medical treatment if you become mentally or physically incapable of deciding for yourself.
Where there is both an Advance Care Directive or Plan and an Enduring Guardianship, the wishes in the Advance Care Plan should be followed by the person appointed as the Enduring Guardian, as these wishes have been made by you at a time where you were able to speak for yourself.
So, who should create one?
We would urge everyone over the age of 18 to prepare an Advance Care Plan. Especially those people who are older, frail, have a chronic illness, multiple diseases, an early cognitive impairment, or are approaching their end of life. Given the unpredictability of life, it is best to start your plan whilst you are healthy, to ensure you have the time to discuss your wishes with family, doctors and trusted advisors.
How often does it need to be updated?
Healthcare professionals recommend that you update your Advance Care Plan every 12 months or after any major change in circumstances (health or otherwise). Given that our feelings about many subjects change over the course of our lives, it is only natural that as you age, your opinions surrounding quality of life, and what is most important to you may change.
As soon as you update your plan, make sure that you destroy any old copies and share the updated copy with anyone who would have a copy of your previous advance care plan.
Who should you share your Advance Care Plan with?
You should discuss and share your Advance Care Plan with your closest family members, doctors and any trusted advisors such as a Financial Planner, Lawyer and whoever you have appointed as your Power of Attorney, Enduring Guardian or Substitute Decision Maker.
It is vital that anyone who may be responsible for managing your care at the end of your life is kept up to date with your wishes. This helps to avoid extra stress and confusion amongst family and means doctors can provide you with the best care quickly.
Can they be ignored or negated by anyone?
If your family, doctors and trusted advisors are aware of – and have access to – your most recent ACP then no, they cannot ignore your written wishes. They must consider your wishes when making decisions about your health care. This is why it is so important to ensure anyone that may play a role in your future medical care is informed in advance and kept up to date with your wishes.
How can you create a digital Advance Care Plan?
Creating a digital Advance Care Plan with Touchstone Life Care is very simple. You just need to register your details and start your free, 3 month – no obligation – trial . Complete our simple questionnaire to create your secure, personalised plan. Once done, you will be able to instantly share your new Advance Care Plan with loved ones, doctors and other trusted advisors.
How much does it cost to create one?
It depends how you choose to create your plan. There are many free forms available online which you can download and fill in. T
hat said, in today’s digital world, we truly believe that creating and storing your plan online avoids the problems that can be caused by ‘missing paperwork”, means you can easily update it whenever and wherever you need to and ensures the most up to date version is instantly available when required.
With Touchstone Life Care, Aal new users receive up to 3 months free use of the system, to allow you the time you need to really consider what you want in regard to your future care needs, to discuss those wishes with people who are important to you, and to create a plan.
Unlike other online memberships, we believe that this time should be ‘no strings attached’ which is why we will not ask for any credit card details to be entered at the start of your free trial.
If you then wish to use our secure on-line storing and sharing system and keep your plan available 24/7 for doctors and decision-makers to see quickly, the cost is $97 per year. With your first 3 months completely free, this gives you 15 months of peace of mind.
We are also proud to point out that our plans are charged in Australian Dollars, so rest assured you don’t need to worry about currency conversions at any point.
Why should you pay for a Digital Advance Care Plan?
Whilst paper based ACPs are free and available in many different formats, the reality is we live in a digital world and when it comes to implementing an ACP, time is everything.
When a hospital or treating doctors have instant and reliable access to your latest plan, they can treat you quickly and in a manner that respects your decisions. It means your loved ones are spared undue stress and anxiety because they know your wishes.
For you, the ability to securely create, update and share your Advance Care Plan means you can spend less time worrying about the end of your life, and more time living now with peace of mind. If you don’t have an Advance Care Plan yet, click here now to complete our easy questionnaire. It generally takes less than 10 minutes. Doing your Advance Care Plan is something anyone can and should do. So get started now.
Need some more information? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for more commonly asked questions about Advance Care Planning.