Planning your future health care has been made easier with the new advance care plan (ACP) template, developed after a national 14-month project to review and update the resource. ‘My Advance Care Plan and Guide’ was officially released earlier this week and is available at www.advancecareplanning.co.nz
ACPs are completed by individuals and made available to health providers to guide health staff, family and caregivers, when patients are unable to speak for themselves. The new user-friendly version, which combines both a plan and a guide, was developed in partnership with consumers and included expert reviews, consumer testing and feedback.
Dr Val Fletcher, geriatrician and chair of the South Island Health of Older People Alliance, says advance care planning is something that all of us should consider completing. “It’s so important to plan ahead and for people to communicate their choices about what they would want for end-of-life care.”
The National Advance Care Planning Cooperative brought together representatives from all over the country for the project, which began in 2015. A co-design approach ensured the documents would work for both consumers and health care professionals supporting a person through the ACP process.
Existing advance care plans still remain valid, says Dr Fletcher. “There is no need to replace your previous plan for those who already have one, but you do have the option to update to the new one if you choose to.”
The importance of planning ahead hit home for Christchurch woman Marie Mitchell earlier this year, when her elderly father, Kevin Jackson, came to the end of his life. The ACP he had completed through his GP meant family and health care staff knew exactly what he wanted in terms of treatment choices, beliefs, and what was important to him.
Marie says the plan was a valuable tool for the family and meant they could be there for him without worrying about whether or not they were doing the right thing for him. “When a loved one is really sick, the last thing you need is that added stress, so the more information you have about what they want, the better. She says not having to make those decisions also helped eliminate any conflict within the family.
From a health professional’s perspective, ACP’s are also a highly valuable tool, says Kevin’s consultant geriatrician, Dr Natasha Smith. “Walking into a room of upset and anxious family members is a really hard place to start. So having an ACP meant I didn’t have to ask his family the difficult questions and they didn’t have to guess or make those choices for him. It would be helpful if everyone had a plan, so when difficult times happened, families could be spending that time with the patient, instead of me.”