April 13, 2023

UW Health encourages advance care planning, expands outreach to the community

Sunday is National Healthcare Decisions Day

Madison, Wis. — Less than half of UW Health patients older than the age of 65 have a legal document stating their health care decisions that go into effect if they are incapacitated.

Only around 45% of the 55,000 patients 65 and older at UW Health have an advance directive in place, according to the Advance Care Planning Team at UW Health.

Advance care planning is the process of planning ahead for one’s own future health care decisions to let others know what types of medical care they want if an unexpected event like a car accident or sudden illness happens and they are unable to speak for themselves, according to Parini Tolat, advance care planning coordinator, UW Health.

This is a conversation all adults should have, regardless of health, age or socioeconomic status, she said.

“There is a lot of fear and myths surrounding advance care planning because people think it is just talking about death, but really it is a discussion about how you want to live,” Tolat said. “By creating a power of attorney for health care, you are able to write down your goals and preferences for future medical care.”

To increase awareness about the importance of advance care planning, UW Health has added resources available in primary care clinics and expanded staff and public virtual workshops that go over the steps necessary to complete a power of attorney for health care, which is the legal document that can allow a person to make health care decisions on behalf of their loved one if something happens, Tolat said.

“We are actively working to enhance advance care planning services in UW Health primary care clinics, including offering one-on-one appointments with trained advance care planning facilitators,” Tolat said. “We have nearly tripled the number of the primary care clinics that offer these enhanced advance care planning services in the last year and the goal is to reach all of them by the end of 2023 or early 2024.”

Twice a month UW Health offers free, public virtual workshops that are expanding to offer evening sessions in the spring. There are also more workshops available to UW Health staff in April in honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day as well, she said.

“The process of advance care planning is more important and less complicated than one might think,” Tolat said. “We want to reach as many people as we can because it is in your best interest to indicate who you want to speak on your behalf rather than having someone else decide for you.”

Wisconsin, unlike some states, is not a “next-of-kin” or “family consent” state, which means that Wisconsin law does not allow next of kin to make decisions in certain situations. Illinois, on the other hand, is a next-of-kin state. Without a health care power of attorney in Wisconsin, a person’s loved ones may need to seek legal guardianship through the court system which can be costly, stressful and time-consuming, so completing a free health care power of attorney, prior to a health crisis, can help to avoid that, she said.

“By giving your loved ones clarity about what you would want and what is most important, you can reduce conflict and prevent some stress during an unexpected emotionally taxing medical situation,” Tolat said.

Sunday is National Healthcare Decisions Day, which was founded in 2008 to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.