Advance Directives: documents that can speak for you, when you are unable to

advance directivesIf you have been to a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office in the last few years, chances are you’ve been asked if you have an advance directive or durable power of attorney for health care.

You may even have made a mental note to get that taken care of. You might even have completed an advanced directive in the past but have not reviewed it in years and may want to revise.

An advance directive is a thoughtful – as well as legal – document explaining your wishes in case you can’t speak for yourself about medical treatment you may receive in the future. It’s understandable that people put off thinking about such things. However, it just takes some quiet time to consider what you would want done if you couldn’t make your own medical decisions. It is important to make these decisions in advance in a setting that is not stressful and critical.

Take time, too, to talk to the people who care about you. You will need one of them to be your legal representative and you’ll want all your family and/or friends to understand your wishes. Then you are ready to complete the documents.

Communication with your family and friends about your wishes on your health care is important to help lessen the stress that comes with tough choices during critical health care decision making. Your wishes and opinions matter. Discuss them with others while you are able to do so.

Here is what you need to know to get started.

What it is: In Michigan, there are two commonly used directives – Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Do-Not-Resuscitate Declaration, commonly called a DNR.

Why you might want these advance directives: These documents allow you to say who you want to make decisions on your behalf when you can’t speak for yourself. Decisions can relate to surgery, drugs, nourishment, whether to resuscitate, and many other treatment options. They may relate to physical comfort or spiritual matters. See the resources at the end of this article for more examples of treatment decisions. Some may be surprising, such as your feelings about letting someone hold your hand, wipe your tears or moisten your lips.

Why hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices ask about them: Health care providers want to know patients’ wishes when they can’t speak for themselves. Without an advance directive, there can be conflicting reports from families and loved ones about the patient’s wishes. In addition, it’s the law – Patient Self Determination Act of 1990.

If you have advance directives and change your mind: You can revoke, or take back, these legal documents at any time, even if you are not in a condition to participate in your medical conditions.

If you are a patient anywhere within the University of Michigan Health System, you can get Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Do-Not-Resuscitate Declaration forms at:

  • Your health center or clinic
  • Any inpatient unit
  • Guest Assistance Program (800) 888-9825
  • Office of Patient Relations (877) 285-7788

Once the advance directive is completed

Make sure all your provider’s have a copy and it is in your medical record wherever you are receiving care.

Make sure you give a copy to each person you have designated as your advocate

Take the next step:

  • Download the UMHS booklet (PDF) which gives more information about Michigan Advance Directives as well as forms for Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and the Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Declarations.
  • Get more information about Advance Directives from Blue Cross Complete of Michigan, and an Advance Directive pamphlet from the Michigan Department of Community Health.
  • Read more from the American Cancer Society on Advance Directives and check out its extensive list of additional resources nation-wide.

Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.