By Kim Von Asten
For many of us, December is a time for family and loved ones and the season of giving. One of the best gifts is peace of mind, and one of the most important ways we can deliver that sense of knowing is through an advance care medical plan in your own voice that your loved ones can access if it's ever needed.
The holidays is a hard time to think about emergencies, but they can happy to any of us, anywhere, so why not be proactive, just in case?
Discussing our health care wishes and priorities doesn't have to be a difficult topic. It becomes more approachable when we talk about it when we're gathered with family at a time of celebration, in loved ones' homes, than in the midst of an emergency in the hospital.
There is no time to waste. We must be advocates for our own health care now.
I should know. I am a registered nurse. When families face medical emergencies with plans in place, they are able to focus on healing rather than worrying. There is no better time to start the conversation than during family gatherings over the holidays.
After misplacing my paper copy, I created a digital directive at an innovative online platform at mydirectives.com. I had already gone through the process of creating a paper directive, but it was too hard to keep track of. The online version was simple to complete, and now I can update it as needed. It is always available online.
Then, surprisingly, I suffered a sudden broken bone this year and the treatment involved surgery. It was such a load off my shoulders to prepare for that surgery knowing my medical directive was accessible to my doctors and my family. I was pleasantly surprised that at each mention of my digital directive, my health care providers knew exactly how to access it and thanked me for making it so simple for them. I could even pull it up on my iPhone to access my directive.
Having immediate access to my plan was a huge relief. Never again will I have to worry about searching for those lost papers or being given yet more forms to fill out because they can't be located. I want others to learn from my experience.
Mine is a typical story of an otherwise healthy person feeling prepared by creating a digital advance care plan. But we need a societal shift so that creating such plans and having such conversations becomes the norm, not the exception.
We're making progress. Next year, doctors will be able to spend time answering questions about advance care planning with Medicare patients, thanks to a new fee schedule that reimburses physicians for those discussions.
Even better is new legislation in Congress that incentivizes digital medical directives with a one-time reimbursement. Even better is new bipartisan legislation introduced this fall that incentivized digital advance care planning by reimbursing Medicare subscribers who create a digital plan.
Health care providers know how valuable it is to have a person's health care priorities outlined for doctors and families.
Studies have quantified what nurses like me have seen firsthand: advance care planning both improves the quality of care for the individual and has a lasting positive impact on our entire families.
This holiday season, the best gift to give is peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones.
Kim von Asten is a nurse from Dousman, Wisconsin, USA