Patient at a annual checkup reviewing personal health with Doctor

Plan now for the future with a Health Care Directive

Document your health care wishes and choose someone to speak for you when you can’t act on your own

As a physician who has cared for thousands of elderly patients and their families, I’ve seen the value of making your health care wishes known to family and your medical team. It’s a really important discussion to have. And planning ahead can make sure you get the health care you want when others have to make decisions for you.

We recommend you plan for your future health care choices when you’re healthy and able to make your own decisions. This prevents confusion or disagreement among family members and your health care team during a medical emergency. 

What is a Health Care Directive?

There’s no better time than now to create a Health Care Directive (also called an advance care directive). You can get help at no cost from a health care provider at your “Welcome to Medicare” visit and your Medicare Yearly Wellness Visit.

There are two important parts to a Health Care Directive:

  • You create a written plan of the health care treatment(s) and life support you do or don’t want to receive. This is for situations when you are badly hurt or have a serious illness and can’t speak for yourself. 
  • You also identify someone – called a health care agent or a health care power of attorney – who speaks on your behalf when you can’t.

The Health Care Directive combines these important decisions into one document. Sometimes people have separate documents: a living will that documents their health care wishes and a health care power of attorney form.

As long as you can make your own medical decisions and communicate them, your directive will not be used. When you can’t make or communicate decisions about your health care, your health care agent will do so according to what you’ve written in your Health Care Directive.

Identify your health care wishes

A Health Care Directive is made up of your personal decisions. It isn’t easy to think about medical emergencies or end-of-life situations. Take your time and talk through these and other topics with important people in your life. You can get input from family, friends, a lawyer, and your health care team.

Whom do I trust to make health care decisions for me? Talk to this person and ask if they would be your health care agent. 

Identify your values and beliefs about life and death. Share your thoughts on quality of life, treatments you want to stay alive and when you want to stop treatment to die naturally. For example, consider whether you do or don’t want these health care situations:

  • Receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops
  • Have a machine pump air into your lungs through a tube if you can’t breathe
  • Have a machine clean your blood if your kidneys don’t work
  • Receive food or fluids through a tube if you can’t eat or drink
  • Have medicines treat your condition
  • Receive comfort care

Write your Health Care Directive

When you’ve made your decisions, write them down in an appropriate form.  Your health care provider may be able to recommend a form for you to use.

Make sure you get a form for your state or use a universal form that is approved by many states. After you fill out the form, sign it with the witnesses or notary public that your state requires. Keep the original document in a safe place. Also, give copies to your health care agent, other family members and your doctor. Your doctor can scan the directive into your medical records for easy access if it is needed.

You can revise your directive whenever you want, such as when you have changes in your health or life circumstances.

Resources to get started and complete your form

Having your decisions made will bring peace of mind for your future. Don’t forget to talk about a directive when you see your doctor for your “Welcome to Medicare” visit or your Medicare Yearly Wellness Visit.

If you have questions or need help getting started, check out these additional resources.

  • Tom von Sternberg, MD, is the Senior Medical Director of Geriatrics, Home Care, Hospice and Case Management for HealthPartners. He has been practicing as a geriatrician for over 30 years. He offers a wealth of knowledge as a contributor to the HealthPartners UnityPoint Health blog.


    See more posts by Dr. Tom >

Simple is good. Send Medicare tips right to my inbox.

Subscribe Attend a meeting
Simple Share Buttons
Simple Share Buttons