National Healthcare Decisions Day Observed April 16

As a co-sponsor of the third annual National Healthcare Decisions Day, NASW is asking everyone: “Do you have an advance directive?”

Observed April 16, National Healthcare Decisions Day is an initiative to encourage all adults to express their medical treatment preferences, particularly concerning end-of-life care, and for health care providers to respect those preferences, whatever they may be.

“No one likes to discuss their own mortality, but everyone, including social workers, really ought to seriously consider communicating and documenting their advance care wishes in an advance directive,” said Karyn Walsh, NASW senior practice associate and a former oncology social worker.

Many Americans are living longer, but are living longer with chronic illness that can challenge their quality of life, Walsh pointed out. This makes advance directives all the more important.

Walsh said that because client self-determination is a hallmark of the profession, social workers can ensure that clients participate in their own advance care planning and help them understand the end-of-life considerations.

“Social workers can demystify the process of creating an advance health care plan and/or choosing a health care agent,” she said.

NASW’s own policy says: “Decisions regarding end-of-life care should be considered at numerous junctures over the course of one’s life, not just when diagnosed with a terminal illness or faced with an acute, life-ending event,” according to Social Work Speaks (8th Ed.).

Federal law requires all health care institutions that participate in Medicare, including hospitals, health clinics and nursing homes, to provide information about health care decision-making rights and ask all patients if they have an advance directive, such as a living will or health care power of attorney.

In her previous role as an oncology social worker, Walsh discussed advance care planning with patients, one of whom was a terminally ill young adult man. He succumbed to leukemia, but before he did, he completed an advance directive expressing his wish to forgo life-prolonging medical care, instead opting just for care to treat his pain and to spend his remaining days at home.

“Not only did it provide him some control over his own life, having an advance directive took the burden of making those difficult decisions off of his loved ones,” Walsh said.

And, completing an advance directive can be easy. The National Healthcare Decisions Day Web site contains links to several advance directives.

In related news, Yvette Colón, a NASW Board member and the American Pain Foundation’s director of education and support, was a panelist on the Hospice Foundation of America’s 2010 National Bereavement Teleconference on March 24. The panelists discussed care options related to cancer diagnoses; loss and grief reactions for patients, families and professional caregivers; and examined psychosocial aspects of cancer, pain management and ethical issues related to the disease.

Get more information and resources, visit Help Starts Here™ Advance Care Planning.