Crises illuminate gaps in advance care planning

June 29, 2017

Already late to an evening meeting, I rush through the hospital halls. Up ahead, an older couple ambled. Then, “Do you know how to get to the elevators?”

I opted for expediency: “I’m heading that way; I’ll take you.”

Relieved, the woman confided that a routine visit discovered a brain tumor. He was having a biopsy in the morning. She insisted he complete an advance directive, but she didn’t know how to begin.

I stopped.

As Program Manager for Honoring Choices Pacific Northwest, my role is to promote advance care planning. A joint initiative of WSHA and the Washington State Medical Association, we help health care organizations and community groups discuss, record and honor end-of-life decisions and assist the public in making informed choices about their care.

Hospital staff appreciated my offer to help; the couple welcomed the opportunity to begin their advance care planning conversation.

This family is not unique.

While 90% of individuals believe talking about end-of-life care with their loved ones is important, only 27% have done so. If the conversation is difficult, putting decisions in writing is even tougher: 82% recognize the value in documenting their wishes, 23% have followed through. Without discussion or documentation, the chasm between what individuals want and what actually happens widens, creating devastating effects for loved ones and care providers.

With our health care and community partners, Honoring Choices Pacific Northwest bridges the gaps in this process. Through group and individual conversations, we progress towards a vision of everyone receiving care that honors personal values and goals – without relying on a chance elevator ride.


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