Why prepare and plan for serious illness?

To live and die well, you need to plan well.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of serious illness. While it is true that most people who have COVID-19 are not that sick or can be managed symptomatically at home, some will develop breathing difficulties and require hospitalization and admission to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for support with breathing machines. Unfortunately, 1.5-7.0% of all patients with COVID-19 succumb to their disease.

If you were to catch the virus, you may become so sick that you are unable to think or communicate clearly. But there will be medical decisions that need to be made about the care you might receive, and doctors may ask your loved ones what your preferences would be. Who would speak for you? And do they know what your values and preferences are? Unfortunately, many families experience considerable stress and anxiety when placed in this role because they don’t know the values and preferences of their loved one.

 So, what can you do now, to prepare for COVID-19 (or any other serious illness that comes along)? You need to learn and understand how medical decisions are made when people are seriously ill and what you have to say and how best to work with the doctors, so you get the medical care that is right for you. Any advance medical care planning that you may have done, which has likely been focused on ‘end of life’ care, will not be helpful in the current situation. Planning for end of life care, like when you have terminal cancer and you know for certain you are dying, is not the same as planning for serious illness. COVID-19 is an example of a serious illness where there is a probability of death but as well as a probability of survival. Unfortunately, doctors will have to make treatment decisions about whether you should go to an ICU or go on breathing machines BEFORE they know your outcome (whether you are going to live or not).

We strongly recommend you go through this website and prepare and plan for future serious illness. Dr. Daren Heyland, the creator of Plan Well Guide, will guide you through this website. You’ll find videos on each page, showing you how to use the website to learn about serious illness decision-making along with how to make a plan to get the medical care that’s right for you. To get started, simply click on the arrow in the image below to learn more by watching the first video:

*Click CC in the play bar or C on your keyboard for subtitles/closed captions.
Often family members have a very difficult time talking about these things during a stressful time like an illness if they haven’t discussed it before. We know that these topics can be difficult to discuss – but they are important. If you think it might be difficult to have these conversations with your loved ones, you might want to watch the “Conversations” video on our Resources page to help you get started.

This planning guide was developed by Dr. Daren Heyland, a critical care physician and researcher who has been studying communication and decision-making when patients are seriously ill for more than 20 years. Our goal is to help you understand the different types of medical treatments offered, and with knowledge, help you communicate what’s important to you, so that you can share that information with your loved ones and your health care team.

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