The Importance of Documenting End of Life Plans during Times of Uncertainty

By: AffirmHealth

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Date: 03/26/2020

Filed Under: Advance Care Planning, COVID-19

In times of uncertainty, we, as humans, redirect our priorities. We’re more focused on our basic needs and values. This has certainly been true during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether it be toilet paper or the security of one’s home, it’s human nature to react and prepare. “Preparedness” is a broad term used in disaster-related discussions. In light of recent events, though, we’re noticing a different perspective on preparedness through the feedback of ER physicians on the frontlines of COVID-19 as well as Primary Care Physicians who’ve reached out recently.

This kind of preparedness certainly involves statistical models and medical equipment distribution. It also means empowering individuals with a measure of control over their health and decisions about the end of their life.

A Comprehensive Approach to Preparedness to Include Advance Directives

Preparedness should not only include material resources but also the steps one can take for greater peace of mind amidst a crisis.

We’ve already seen powerful demonstrations of this belief as news stations recruit psychologists to speak to the public about mental health during this pandemic and governors hold special briefings with the sole purpose of communicating the situation to children in the community. Right now, we’re seeing these examples of personal and collective preparedness. It’s a bright spot in a difficult time.

There’s a lot of discussion around exceeding our health care system’s capacity as a result of the pandemic. Thankfully, we have not reached this point. But considerations are being made at the highest level to prepare for that possibility. This is also why social distancing and other recommendations have been made to help us avoid that possible outcome.

While physicians continue their life-saving work and most other individuals spend less time in public, we’re observing that many people– practitioners and patients– are not solely focused on triage efforts but proactive ones too, such as end of life planning.

For example, our team members were recently in Florida connecting with Primary Care groups where the patient demographic is mostly of an older age. In this location, we’ve seen a spike in outreach for advance directives due to the soberness of the times.

The need for advance care planning conversations is clear. It’s not something to be considered only in times of surplus. Its importance is highlighted all the more in crisis. The real consideration is a practice’s ability to complete this kind of care plan with a patient and carry out the advance directive across all care settings. This is the hope of our advance care planning tool.

A Change of Perspective During and After COVID-19

Historically, advance care planning is not something the majority of people (practices and patients) have aggressively pursued. Therefore, adequate processes aren’t in place for many health care institutions. We expect that trend to change as a result of the COVID-19 threat.

This pandemic and the consideration of our health care capacity has already led community leaders to encourage their citizens to update their end of life plans. This was the case recently in Australia.

Some people may question prioritizing such a difficult conversation during an already tense time. On the contrary, intentional conversations and formalized plans about one’s end of life give them a measure of control when many other factors are outside their control.

We don’t know how long the pandemic will last but most of us understand we’ll be dealing with the ripple effect for the foreseeable future. Every family should be prepared for the months ahead. Prioritizing advance directives makes it easier for an individual, their family, and the providers if a person becomes seriously ill from the virus.

The advance directive will clearly outline that individual’s preferences on treatment, outcomes, and other decisions if they’re unable to make them later on. This alleviates confusion and undue pressure for all parties.

Effective advance care planning also gives voice to one’s values, which is instinctual to all of us, especially during uncertain times.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly forced all of us to adapt. It will continue to impact us. We can only hope that some of those changes are for the better and that, collectively, we’re more prepared than we were before.


If you’d like to improve your practice’s ability to provide this kind of care, we encourage you to consider talking with our team or trying a demo of our tool.


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