Proactive planning for your future health care needs
By Meghann Finn Sepulveda
Communicating individual medical wishes through advance directives such as a living will and a health care power of attorney is important at any point in life, especially as we age. These legal documents are key to making sure your medical decisions are known before a health crisis occurs and you are unable to speak for yourself. In addition to talking with your family members, there are many tools and resources available that can guide you through the entire planning process.
A living will is a legal document that gives individuals the opportunity to specify their medical wishes including instructions for treatment. It is usually paired with a health care power of attorney, a document that appoints someone you choose to make medical decisions on your behalf in case you are unable to do so.
“It’s a good idea to prepare these documents while you are healthy and independent,” says Linda Esparza, R.N., Sun Health at Home wellness coordinator. “In addition to writing this information down, it’s also important to verbalize your medical wishes, especially to the person who has been identified as your health care power of attorney.”
Other details included in a living will may specify after-death decisions such as organ donation and even funeral arrangements.
Linda, who is a knowledgeable resource to Sun Heath at Home members, says individuals should speak to their doctor or lawyer if they have questions about these documents or need to update them. A Life Care plan packet, including living will and health care power of attorney forms, among other important documents, is available online at no cost through the Office of the Arizona Attorney General.
Record and file
Once your documents are completed, you are encouraged to provide a copy to the people who are most important to you, along with your doctor(s) and local Banner Medical Center.
“You can also register these advance health care directives for free with the State of Arizona Advance Directive Registry, which are then electronically stored and readily available if needed,” Linda explained.
Another important resource is Sun Health’s Vial of Life, which contains an easy-to-complete medical form that is kept in your refrigerator and can be quickly accessed by loved ones and medical personnel if an emergency occurs. Simply placing a sticker in your window alerts first responders that this information is available. Please verify that first responders in your area are familiar with the Vial of Life program. The File of Life is a portable flash drive that holds emergency medical information and can be stored on a key chain or taken with you during travel.
“Both of these tools were designed as a service to the community and intended to be an easy and fast way for people to share their personal medical information, which is extremely helpful in the event of a medical emergency,” Linda says.
Be prepared to execute
While it’s not pleasant to think about, the truth is that an accident or illness could strike at any time. Having a plan in place can guarantee your medical wishes will be honored and implemented.
All Sun Health at Home members can discuss the details of these advance directives with their personal wellness coordinator, a highly trained and experienced nurse or social worker, who is available to act as a health care advocate, explain medical terminology and answer questions.
“The conversation about advance directives is one we have on the very first day a member joins Sun Health at Home,” Linda says. “While it can sometimes be difficult to talk about, having this information prepared in advance can alleviate worry and give you and your family greater peace of mind.”