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  • Scripps Health

End-of-Life-Care Planning Matters During Difficult Times

COVID-19 pandemic highlights importance of advance directives

Planning ahead for end-of-life medical care can help bring some peace of mind during a crisis situation. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us to be ready to have this conversation in case of a serious illness like COVID-19.

While most people who get COVID are able to recover at home, others might require intensive care and extended hospitalization. You don’t have to wait until you’re very sick to express your wishes for health care. In fact, it’s better to have these planning conversations before you have to go to a hospital, nursing home or other health care facility.

You can do this by using an advance directive, which allows you to specify medical treatment you want or don’t want if you become severely ill.

“Advance directives are important documents that protect a person’s health care wishes. They help individuals receive their desired medical care even when illness or injury prevents them from communicating,“ says David Wang, MD, a palliative medicine specialist at Scripps. “These documents guide your medical teams in knowing who speaks for you when you cannot speak for yourself.“

These legally recognized tools have been underutilized in the past. According to a 2017 study, only about a quarter of adults in the United States had recorded their end-of-life care wishes in advance directives or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms.

What is an advance directive?

An advance health care directive includes a patient’s wishes in case of a catastrophic medical event, such as from COVID. It has two parts: the individual health care instruction and power of attorney for health care.

What is individual health care in