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COVID-19 and Advance Care Planning

Advance Care Planning during COVID-19

Many of us are focused on staying well and protecting others as we face the uncertainty and risk of COVID-19.  Wash your hands, stay six feet apart, and wear a cloth mask are now everyday realities. There’s something else that each of us should be doing to prepare for the risk of a serious illness—advance care planning.  COVID-19 presents an excuse and an opportunity to make sure our health care wishes are known and in writing--a process called advance care planning. If you were to get seriously ills with COVID-19, what advance care plans do you have in place and who knows about them? If you have an existing health care directive, do you need to revisit your preferences given the risks and realities of COVID-19? Do you know what others you care about would want and why if faced with a serious illness and unable to communicate?

One way to help ease anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic is to focus on what we can control. Adults have a basic right to control their own medical care by consenting to or refusing medical treatment. Patients have the right to understand their health problems, potential care options, and what effect accepting or rejecting various treatments might have on their quality of life. There are times when health care decisions may need to be made when an individual is no longer able to decide or communicate. Health care decisions can’t be based on a patient’s preferences if family members and health care providers don’t know who we would want to make care decisions for us, and what values and goals we want to guide our health care decisions. Having critical conversations and putting your wishes in writing is the best way to help make sure your health care wishes will be known and followed. Advance care planning is a gift to others in a time of stress and loss. Being as transparent as possible about your wishes and intentions with family members and health care providers can help avoid future misunderstandings and conflicts, and reduce guilt and fear about making the wrong decisions when wishes aren’t known. If you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to bring up what can be a sensitive topic with family members and jumpstart your own planning— COVID-19 is it. 

Four advance care planning and COVID-19 to do's

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Marlene S. Stum, Ph.D. Professor, Family Economics and Gerontology, Family Social Science and Extension Specialist

Stum’s research and extension education focuses on helping family members tackle critical issues that they normally do not want to address — or even acknowledge —including end-of-life health care, inheritance, and long term care.  She is the lead author of d the Minnesota Health Care Directive Planning Toolkit.

Reviewed in 2020

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