April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day

Care Dimensions hospice physician Stephanie Patel speaks with a patient

Stephanie Patel, MD, Care Dimensions chief medical officer, speaks with a patient.

This is the 10-year anniversary of National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), April 16, a day that was founded to inspire, educate and empower the public and health care providers about the importance of advance care planning. This special initiative creates an opportunity to encourage patients to express their wishes regarding how much treatment they want to receive at end of life and for providers and facilities to respect those wishes, whatever they may be.


Care Dimensions would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone to think and talk about how they wish to be treated in the event a medical crisis leaves them unable to speak for themselves. As a hospice and palliative care physician for the past 18 years, I’ve seen firsthand the stress families experience when conversations about health care wishes haven’t happened. Understanding options for end-of-life care – before the crisis of an accident or a life-limiting diagnosis – can help patients and families assume more control over decision making and avert unnecessary suffering and emotional distress.


Who should have an advance directive?

  • Everyone over the age of 18 should have an advance directive to document their health care wishes. People with known terminal illness should also have completed a MOLST form (Massachusetts Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment).


Discuss your wishes with your loved ones

  • Talk about and document what types of treatments you would or would not like to receive, such as whether you would want to use a breathing machine, have tube feedings, or be resuscitated if your heart stops.


Who can you choose to be your health care agent?

  • Your agent can be a family member, friend or someone close to you.
  • Choose a person who can be an advocate for your wishes if you are unable to advocate for yourself.
  • Choose someone who understands your health condition and the treatments you would or would not like to receive.

Talk to your doctor and health care provider

  • Learn more about your health or illness and treatment options
  • Discuss your goals and explore the care you want or don’t want
  • Share your advance directive planning documents and be sure that your medical record is up-to-date.


There are several online resources that will help you start the conversation with loved ones and document your wishes – Honoring Choices MA, Five Wishes or The Conversation Project. You can also visit our website at CareDimensions.org/planningahead for links to these resources and more.


Although you don’t need an attorney to fill out or execute the forms, you might consider giving your lawyer a completed copy. Make sure you have copies of the completed, signed and witnessed forms for your loved ones, your doctor, and a copy at home that can be easily accessed in an emergency.


Take action now to make your health care wishes known and encourage your loved ones to do the same – they will thank you for it!


Stephanie Patel, MD, is Care Dimensions' Vice President and Chief Medical Officer.

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"Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts."