Discussing end-of-life wishes with family and being prepared

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Although it is a subject most individuals want to avoid, it is extremely important to discuss wishes at the end of life with your family.

Changes in medical technology have made it possible to keep people alive well beyond the point where their lives may have meaning and quality to them. Patients who can’t communicate their wishes regarding their medical care can be kept alive by heart-lung resuscitation, breathing machines, artificial feeding and other methods.

By default, physicians continue treating individuals to keep them alive for as long as possible, because without consent or proper documentation, they are not allowed to switch to a comfort care approach to treatment. In these instances, an extremely difficult decision of choosing the treatment approach is left to the family members.

Individuals can avoid this difficult process by being proactive and discussing their end of life wishes with their families. This does not just involve filling out advance directives, including a living will and healthcare power of attorney; it must be paired with a discussion with family to clearly explain your wishes in the instance of a life-threatening illness or accident.

Preparedness is key, and the sooner an individual discusses his/her end of life wishes with family, the better, because we never know when a life-threatening event will occur.

Our community is fortunate, as Cone Health offers exceptional family medicine, social work, spiritual care and other related services dedicated to providing the education and resources needed for the process of preparing advance medical directives and discussing end of life wishes with family.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Bill Hensel is the program director for Cone Health Family Medicine Residency and a family medicine specialist. Dr. Hensel is a 1978 graduate of Ohio State University College of Medicine. He completed his residency in family practice at University of Texas Medical School at Houston in 1981 and completed a fellowship in faculty development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1985.