Making Healthcare Decisions Ahead of Time Brings Peace of Mind to Families

Apr 16, 2013, 13:25 ET from Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Northwestern Medicine expert helps educate patients on advance care planning 

CHICAGO, April 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- It's a trying time for the entire family having to watch a loved one's health decline. It can be even more stressful and confusing when medical decisions must be made, and family members debate healthcare decisions and question who best knows the patient's wishes. Today marks the sixth annual National Healthcare Decisions Day, and Northwestern Medicine® experts are encouraging patients to plan ahead, express their wishes and document their healthcare decisions, so there's a plan in place for families to follow.

Advanced directives are a free and relatively easy to complete document that can alleviate this stress by making one's wishes clear, so family members may act accordingly. There are two main forms of advanced directives, power of attorney for healthcare and living will. Power of attorney for healthcare names a specific individual designated to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient, whereas a living will spells out what kind of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures physicians should carry out. Doctors rely on these documents only when patients are unable to make decisions due to the severity of their medical condition.

"Advanced directives have the power to lift the burden of confusion from family and friends during a health crisis, allowing them to focus their energy on supporting the patient and one another," said Kathy Neely, MD, chair of the Medical Ethics Committee at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "The person named by the patient can speak on behalf of the patient and collaborate with the healthcare team to make decisions as stated in the document."

Neely encourages all adults to thoughtfully choose a decision maker, and to prepare a Power of Attorney document to name that person. And, of course, to discuss their thoughts about medical care with the person they have identified to act on their behalf, referred to as their agent. The agent may be a family member, partner, or good friend – anyone the individual selects.

"Once you complete your Power of Attorney document, make it known," said Neely. "Far too often family and physicians do not know these documents exist."

At Northwestern Memorial, all advance directives presented to the health care team are scanned into the hospital's electronic medical record and patients have an opportunity to confirm that the directive is still current at the time of admission or provide a new document.

The idea of creating an advanced directive can be daunting, since most people do not wish to think about situations that warrant the document. However, experts say completing an advanced directive does not have to be a sad task.

"Having an advanced directive in place puts you in control and should foster peace of mind," adds Neely.

Neely recommends looking at advanced directives like life insurance or estate planning.

"This is yet another way to lighten the burden on our loved ones," adds Neely. "Serious illness is not something people like to think about, but by doing a little bit of planning, one can put things in order for their family in case the situation ever arises."

Northwestern Medicine® is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery. 

For more information about advanced directives and to obtain links to the forms, click here. For more information on 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 205-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.  And, Northwestern Memorial ranks 12th in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report 2012 Honor Roll of "America's Best Hospitals". The hospital is ranked in 12 of 16 clinical specialties rated by U.S. News and is No. 1 in Illinois and Chicago in U.S. News' 2012 state and metro rankings, respectively. For 13 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 13 years. 

SOURCE Northwestern Memorial Hospital