Now is the time for advance care planning with patients

Continuing on with our focus on National Advance Care Planning week, there is no better time to engage with patients and their loved ones about future healthcare wishes.

In this article from Insight, Dr Craig Sinclair, Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Psychology at UNSW Sydney, explains how, “as trusted providers of health care information, medical staff can help patients to understand their current health state and likely future scenarios that may emerge.”

Advance care planning is a person-centred process, in which patients can discuss their future health care wishes with family members, health care professionals and trusted others. These discussions may lead patients to document their wishes, specifying future treatment preferences or identifying one or more substitute decision makers. Across all Australian states and territories, people with decision-making capacity are able to legally document their wishes in advance care directives.

Advance care planning is not just a one-off event, or something that is only suitable for people with deteriorating health. Ideally it starts early, and is an ongoing process. However, it is recommended that advance care planning conversations are prioritised for anyone who:

  • has an advanced chronic illness, life-limiting condition or new significant diagnosis;
  • is at a key point in their illness trajectory (e.g. planning or assessment for aged care services, or during transition to residential care);
  • has declining ability to make their own decisions (e.g. a progressive cognitive impairment);
  • in the view of a clinician who knows them well, may be likely to die in the next 12 months.

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