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​COVID-19 highlights the importance of Advance Care Planning

Today kicks off National Advance Care Planning Week, encouraging Australians to plan their future medical care, especially during these uncertain times.

With Advance Care Directive Week upon us, it is better to be prepared for the future than without an Advance Care Directive later down the track. [Source: Shutterstock]
With Advance Care Directive Week upon us, it is better to be prepared for the future than without an Advance Care Directive later down the track. [Source: Shutterstock]

The initiative runs from 23-27 March with the aim of raising awareness about the significance of letting your loved ones know your future medical decisions for when you no longer have the capacity to make the decisions for yourself.

In light of the current coronavirus threat, Advance Care Planning Australia (ACPA) is recommending that people plan for a scenario where they may become unwell, and clarify their preferred medical treatment and the person they wish to make their decisions.  

There were nearly 200 organisations and community groups planning to host an awareness event, however many of those events have since been cancelled in the last week due to COVID-19 developments.

Dr Karen Detering, Medical Director of ACPA, says, "When we set the date for this initiative back in November 2019, little did we know that the world would be gripped by a disruptive global pandemic. It’s disappointing but understandable that so many events have been cancelled.

“Yet advance care planning is more important than ever in these uncertain times. In the months ahead, thousands of Australians face the prospect of becoming suddenly and seriously unwell. I’m concerned that more than 85 percent of Australians are without an Advance Care Directive as w­­­e face the impact of COVID-19.

“I urge all Australians, do what you can to prepare for a scenario where you may be unable to make your own medical decisions, especially if you’re older or have chronic illness. I’ve had these conversations in recent weeks with my patients and my own family. It has been quite empowering for all."

Having an Advance Care Directive is important as nearly 50 percent of people will not be able to make their own end of life medical decisions and only 30 percent of older Australians aged 65 and over have an Advance Care Directive.

Not only that, a third of Australians will die before they reach the age of 75 and usually because of a chronic illness, not from a sudden event, which is why it is so important to plan ahead.

Dr Chris Moy, Chair of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Ethics Committee and advance care planning advocate, shares concerns that not enough people have put an Advance Care Directive in place.

“We understand that these are very unsettling­­­­ times for all of us. People are justifiably worried about elderly friends and relatives, particularly those with conditions such as lung and heart disease, cancer and diabetes,” says Dr Moy.

“Families need to prepare for a time where they may be called upon to make decisions for their loved one who may become suddenly ill with coronavirus. Research tells us that too many families find themselves in the devastating situation of making decisions blindly, without knowing or discussing their loved ones preferences. There is an opportunity to act now.

“We’re mindful that these conversations can be very challenging, particularly in light of the anxiety around COVID-19, but being prepared for future events can also provide individuals and families peace-of-mind, amidst the uncertainty of these unsettling times.

“Choose a person you trust to make your medical decisions. It may be a difficult conversation for some people but it’s a small, yet powerful act of love that will make it easier for those left who may need to make tough decisions on your behalf."

The ACPA operates a free National Advisory Service for anyone seeking personalised advice about advance care planning and the organisations intend to support the wider community, healthcare professionals and aged care providers during this difficult time.

ACPA has seen an increase in phone queries over the last few weeks and Dr Detering says the organisation will retain its full service to Australians during the coronavirus crisis.

For more information about Advance Care Directives, head to the Advance Care Planning Australia website or read our guide on Advance Care Directives

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