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Doctor, Doctor: Focus on advance care planning

Susan Gaeta, M.D.

We asked Susan Gaeta, M.D., assistant professor in Critical Care, to tell us why everyone – not just cancer patients – should consider advance care planning.

What is advance care planning?

Advance care planning is an ongoing conversation among patients, families, patient representatives and health care providers, where prognostic information, therapeutic options and patients’ life goals, values and wishes for further treatment are understood and addressed to better honor patient preferences.


Why should people be concerned?

As a physician in critical care, I see many patients who say at the end of their lives, “if only I’d been able to” or “if only I’d known.” They express regret that they haven’t been able to spend as much time as they’d like with their families, for example. If you were ever unable to communicate your wishes about your medical treatment, it’s important that your loved ones know the type of care you prefer. For example, in the advance directive, sometimes called a living will, we specify our wishes about certain medical interventions that may be considered. Having the advance directive ensures that your wishes will be clear.


Which documents are important to have?

It’s important to complete a medical power of attorney – a document that lets you designate who you want to make medical decisions for you if you’re ever in a position where you can’t make them yourself. It’s also important to consider a living will (or directive to physicians and family or surrogates), which lets you designate the types of life-sustaining medical treatment you would want if you’re ever in a position where you cannot make your wishes known.


What do we do with these papers?

Once you fill out the papers and have them witnessed, you can put them into a folder and carry them with you to doctor appointments and hospitalizations. Or ask for the documents to be scanned and added to your medical records.


What can you tell us about National Healthcare Decisions Day?

Every April 16, National Healthcare Decisions Day raises awareness about this issue. We ask everyone to start a conversation with their loved ones about what matters most to them.

 

What can you tell us about National Healthcare Decisions Day?

I think it’s important for patients to learn as much as they can about their diseases, their treatments and their prognoses. That makes it easier for them to make decisions during all stages of treatment.

 

What advice do you have for patients in general?

I think it’s important for patients to learn as much as they can about their diseases, their treatments and their prognoses. That makes it easier for them to make decisions during all stages of treatment.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center