Executive Summary

April 16, 2016 is National Healthcare Decisions Day. The goal of the day is to encourage Americans to think and talk about their health care goals and communicate their health care decisions by executing advance health care directives.


Studies indicate that most Americans have not executed documents that name a health care decision maker or a living will declaration to express their wishes for their end-of-life care. As a result, families and health care providers often struggle when forced to make difficult health care decisions in a crisis in the absence of guidance from the patient. These stressful moments can be eased if individuals execute advance health care directives or living will declarations and appointments of health care representatives or health care powers of attorney.

Purpose and History of the Initiative

Across the United States, health care providers, professionals, chaplains, attorneys and others will focus attention on the importance of appointing health care decision makers and putting their end-of-life health care desires down in writing. These groups will educate Americans to let them know that they have the right to make decisions about their health care in the event they cannot speak for themselves or are incapacitated and cannot make those decisions. These groups will also draw attention to the actions individuals can take to execute advance health care directives, such as appointments of health care representatives, health care powers of attorney and living will declarations, in accordance with applicable state laws. The theme for 2016 is “It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late.”

Types of Health Care Directives

An advance health care directive or living will declaration is a document that allows individuals to express their personal preferences and provide instructions for what medical treatments would or would not be wanted in case they become incapacitated and cannot make decisions.

An appointment of a health care representative or health care power of attorney is a document that allows individuals to select a person who will make decisions for them if they become incapacitated and cannot communicate their wishes directly.

Also, many states now have a form that is intended to use your end-of-life treatment and health care preferences to create medical orders that health care providers can follow.  These forms are called Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment, Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatments or Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment.

Practical Takeaways

Providers, facilities and caregivers generally benefit when patients have health care directives and documents that appoint health care decision makers. Providers, facilities and caregivers can encourage their patients and remind them of the importance of these decisions, discussions and documents.  National Healthcare Decisions Day is a collaborative effort, and many national organizations are participating, including the AARP, the American Health Lawyers Association and the American Hospital Association. Additional information about the event is available at www.nhdd.org.