In an ideal world. . .

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

health care planningI rarely wish for time to speed up and the future to get here faster (disclaimer: I don’t count certain phases that my kids go through when they are driving me bonkers).  I work in hospice; if nothing else, I’ve learned that we need to cherish every day as it happens.  But I read an article by a physician the other day and it made me wish that we, as a society, could fast forward immediately to the world that she was describing.

The article was written by Dr. Susan Block who is the Chair of the Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Womens Hospital and Co-Director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Palliative Care.  You can read the full version of her article here.  But in a nutshell, she talks about how advances in medicine have created a culture in which we depend on, and trust, our health care system to make us all better (which, as we know, is not necessarily a good thing).  Hundreds of years ago, death was accepted as a part of life’s cycle.  Now, because illness can be managed so well, it almost comes as a shock when we are faced with the reality of losing someone we love or faced with our own end.  In today’s society, death has become much harder to handle.

Dr. Block says we start too late — talking, thinking, and acknowledging death.  She asks us, “What would happen if we acknowledge that people die, shared our best available prognostic information, and supported patients in thinking about death and what kind of path to follow as health deteriorates?”

So here’s the health care system Dr. Block proposes in her article.  It’s one where all patients have to designate health care proxies when enrolling in health insurance (it forces us to at least start thinking about end of life, and at a much earlier age).  A system where physicians who care for chronically ill or terminal patients would be trained in having discussions with their patients about goals of care and end-of-life decisions (and ideally, these discussions would translate to open dialogue in other medical fields as well).  And then, after these discussions happened, there would be a way to document the patient’s wishes and create standards that would be used as indicators for good care (medical records wouldn’t be complete without the information gleaned from these important conversations).

It sounds so simple, really.  I wish it could be.  But the reality is, we have a considerable road ahead to travel until we can reach this new health care state.  There are political agendas to bridge, costs to consider, biases to overcome, and stereotypes to break, among other factors.  But until then, we can do our part to create a world where this new type of health care system would not only be accepted, but embraced.

So I’m still going to cherish every day.  But, at the same time, I’m going to do what I can to educate as many people as possible about the benefits of end-of-life care planning.  So that Dr. Block’s ideal health care system can become a reality.  Ideally, in my lifetime.

Explore posts in the same categories: advance directives, advocacy, awareness, education, end of life, hospice

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