Express Your Future Healthcare Wishes—Today?


Everyone makes plans for the future, whether it is where you are going on vacation or what you are making for dinner. Yet, you ignore planning your healthcare decisions.

Stephanie Cavanaugh, RN, MSN, BSW, Palliative Care Manager at St. Elizabeth Healthcare explains, “It is very important that your family and doctor know what your healthcare wishes are if you are unable to communicate. Advance care planning conversations and documents help people explore what lies ahead in their healthcare journey and make decisions, in advance, for what may happen. Then, when it comes to decision time, someone else isn’t making the decision for you, they are expressing your wishes—on your behalf.”

What is Advance Care Planning?

Advance care planning is more than just a document, it is about having conversations and discussing potentials about healthcare situations in the future.

“Advance care planning is not just a living will, although that is one piece of it,” says Stephanie. “You need to have conversations with your family and healthcare providers about what you do, and don’t, want as your health changes. It is important to discuss what could happen and express your wishes so everyone is aware of what matters most to you.”

April 16 is designated as National Healthcare Decision Day, to bring awareness to the importance of advance care planning and encourage you to let your healthcare wishes be known and understood.

Advance care planning sounds complicated, but there are online guides that can help walk you through the process, such as The steps to planning for your future healthcare decisions include:

  1. Start early! Choose a healthcare surrogate—Select a person to make your healthcare decisions for you if you are too sick. Choose someone who will be comfortable speaking for you and will respect your wishes. We recommend every adult designate a healthcare surrogate and begin these conversations.
  2. Express your wishes to your surrogate and doctor(s)—Begin with decisions for life-prolonging treatment should you become terminally ill and unable to speak for yourself.
  3. Write it down, formalize it—Complete living will document(s) to express your healthcare wishes. This helps you plan ahead so that your family and loved ones are not left with a difficult decision.
  4. Give copies to advocate, doctor and family members—Once you have your living will documents complete, make copies and share with the important people in your life.
  5. Continue the conversations and update your documents—Continue discussions about what lies ahead for your healthcare journey and what options you could face in the future. Updating your living will regularly is important to be sure that decisions are in line with your wishes along the way. We recommend revisiting at routine intervals and with major life events.

“Once you create your living will, you can still change your mind about what is in it,” says Stephanie. “I recommend people update their living will at major life events, including when they get married, have children, celebrate decade birthdays, after their children are grown, and especially after any hospitalization. If you are sick or have a chronic illness, discuss your illness trajectory with your doctor and family so everyone understands what your wishes are as the condition progresses.”

If you don’t think you can walk through this process alone, there is help. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider, especially if you have complex health conditions, serious illness or you’re getting older. You can also download this simple Advance Care Planning guide from St. Elizabeth Healthcare to explain the process and point you to resources in the region.

If you have more questions you can email the palliative care department at St. Elizabeth Healthcare at or call (859) 301-5999.