Life is unpredictable. So, it is hard to know when you may not able to communicate due to things like an accident, serious illness, or even death. My experiences have taught me a very simple lesson: you cannot read the mind of patients who are critically ill, and families can’t necessarily know what was on the minds of their loved ones before they passed away. As a cancer survivor, I am personally aware of unpredictability, and I feel compelled to address the topic of preparation and communication.
Regardless of whether patients are healthy or not, these five items should be on everyone’s (even your) checklist and to complete as soon as possible. Completing these will help your patients to be as prepared as possible and allow family and friends to make decisions that best represent their wishes.
While it is only five items, you may be surprised at how challenging these can be to complete. Share them with your patients to ensure their wishes are secure when the time comes.
1. Living Will
This is not a surprise, but it is essential. Family and friends can get into a conflict if you do not share what you want after your death. Important things to consider include how you would like to prepare your funeral and how you want your wealth or possessions to be distributed. It’s best to have this notarized with your signature.
2. Advanced Directive
Do you want to be resuscitated or not? This is a powerful, potentially difficult question that you may not want to leave to others to decide. Not having a well-documented advanced directive could result in unnecessary, aggressive care that you may not desire. Make sure that you, your family, and your doctors have a copy of this document.
3. Designated Power of Attorney
If you cannot communicate, who do you want to make decisions on your behalf? A power of attorney or letter of attorney will designate someone to represent you or act on your behalf in case of a serious medical situation in which you aren’t able to make a medical decision. For more information, read about Advance Care Planning on MD Anderson’s website.
4. Digital Account Login Information
Without this important login information, sorting through your accounts can be a complete mess for your loved ones. It is complicated to reset the password if you aren’t the account owner, and most companies will not release passwords to the family. Without access, your family and friends are unable to retrieve any photos or respond to important messages or posts.
I personally use software that collects my IDs and passwords in one secure file. My wife knows the location of the software on the computer, and one master password will provide her with access to the entire list of IDs and passwords.
5. List of Benefits
It may be surprising, but your partner or family may not know what benefits you have. These include any money owed to your family from your insurance, bank accounts, or other memberships you may have. In many cases, the surviving family doesn’t receive those financial benefits merely because grieving family members forget to follow the necessary processes. It is best to lay this information out proactively to ensure they can be quickly accessed when needed.
Even healthcare providers, who deal with difficult situations every day, may not always have a living will, advanced directive, or designated power of attorney. I must say it is hypocritical to request these items at the hospital from our patients if we don’t have them ourselves. As healthcare providers, it is time for us to change the landscape of this difficult process by promoting the importance of preparing for these life-altering events.
Preparing these five items yourself at the time of when you can communicate and are healthy is the key to having a reasonable transition at the most challenging time. We need to be good role models.
Follow Dr. Ueno on Twitter: @teamoncology