How Can You Make Sure Your Care Wishes are Met if You Can't Speak Up?

Northwestern Medicine educates patients about the importance of advance directives

Apr 16, 2014, 11:31 ET from Northwestern Memorial Hospital

CHICAGO, April 16, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- While no one wants to think about the possibility that one day their health, or a loved one's, might be compromised and prevent them from making their own health care decisions, it becomes an unfortunate reality for many Americans every day. Today, April 16, is National Healthcare Decisions Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance for every adult to take the time to consider what their health care wishes are, and developing advance directives to make sure those wishes are known to their care team and loved ones.

"Without a clear indication of what someone's medical wishes are, those closest to us often bear a very stressful and unnecessary burden of choice," said Kathy Neely, MD, a Northwestern Medicine® internist and chair of the Medical Ethics Committee at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "We do not typically have conversations about our medical wishes with those we love most, but these conversations are important to discuss and our wishes should be documented."

Advance directives can take two main forms, a power of attorney for healthcare and a living will. Each form is free to use and relatively easy to complete. Power of attorney for healthcare names a trusted person, referred to as an "agent," who is designated to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient when needed. When designating an agent for advance directives, it is important to review all medical care wishes with the person selected, so they are well informed and any questions he or she might have about those wishes are answered. An agent can be a family member, partner, good friend – anyone the individual chooses.

"No one should have to guess what medical choices someone else would make for themselves," added Mary F. Mulcahy, MD, a Northwestern Medicine oncologist and member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. "Even if advance directives have been completed by a patient, their family or health care providers may not always know they exist."

Neely and Mulcahy stress not only the importance of having advance directives in place, but of also making sure loved ones know about them in the event they are needed. As strong advocates for advance directives, both physicians also have their own directives in place and regularly make sure these documents are up-to-date.

"It may be easy to think of advance directives planning as a less than happy activity, but it is critical to remember that it is about maintaining control over your own life and providing your family with peace of mind for what could otherwise be an impossible decision," said Neely.

At Northwestern Memorial, advance directives are scanned directly into the hospital's electronic medical record system and all patients are asked if their directives are current during admission, and given the opportunity to provide new documentation.

Visit our website for more information about advanced directives and to download free power of attorney for healthcare forms. To learn more about National Healthcare Decisions Day, visit

About Northwestern Memorial HealthCare
Northwestern Memorial HealthCare is the parent corporation of Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, an 894-bed academic medical center hospital and Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, a 201-bed community hospital located in Lake Forest, Illinois. 

About Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Northwestern Memorial is one of the country's premier academic medical center hospitals and is the primary teaching hospital of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Along with its Prentice Women's Hospital and Stone Institute of Psychiatry, the hospital has 1,705 affiliated physicians and 6,769 employees.  Northwestern Memorial is recognized for providing exemplary patient care and state-of-the art advancements in the areas of cardiovascular care; women's health; oncology; neurology and neurosurgery; solid organ and soft tissue transplants and orthopaedics.

Northwestern Memorial has nursing Magnet Status, the nation's highest recognition for patient care and nursing excellence. Northwestern Memorial ranks 6th in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report 2013-14 Honor Roll of America's Best Hospitals. The hospital is recognized in 14 of 16 clinical specialties rated by U.S. News and is No. 1 in Illinois and Chicago in U.S. News' 2013-14 state and metro rankings, respectively. For 14 years running, Northwestern Memorial has been rated among the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" guide by Working Mother magazine. The hospital is a recipient of the prestigious National Quality Health Care Award and has been chosen by Chicagoans as the Consumer Choice according to the National Research Corporation's annual survey for 15 consecutive years. 

SOURCE Northwestern Memorial Hospital