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Advance Directives: What They Are and What You Need to Know

Excellent healthcare is healthcare that is tailored to you specifically. Doctors and other healthcare providers work hard to ensure your needs and preferences are part of their plan of care for you and help guide you in your decision-making process. In addition, family and close friends can offer counsel and help you make healthcare decisions that best fit you and your life.  However, it is important to remember that you are the main decision maker when it comes to your health and any treatments you receive. We usually discuss with our doctors how we feel about different treatments and therapies before receiving them, but there may be times when we are unable to say what it is we want (if we are seriously injured or very sick). This is where advance directives can help us out.  

What are Advance Directives? 

Advance directives are legal documents that help you plan what treatments you would or would not like if you are unable to speak for yourself at that moment due to injury or illness. An advance directive can also appoint someone you trust to make medical decisions for you in situations where you cannot make the decision yourself. This is also called advance care planning and should be done while you are healthy. It is a misconception that advance directives are for the elderly only. No one plans to get injured or seriously ill, so making these decisions when you are well will keep you safe when the unexpected happens, no matter what age you are. These documents are then shared with your doctor, family and other loved ones so they know and can follow your wishes.  

What are the different types of Advance Directives? 

Let’s go over the different types of advance directives. The most common are living wills and durable power of attorney for health care. A living will is a written list of procedures and treatments you do and/or do not want. Common treatments and procedures listed in living wills include (but are not limited to): 

  • CPR 
  • Feeding tubes 
  • Nutrition administered through IVs (TPN) 
  • Breathing machines (ventilators) 
  • Blood transfusions 
  • Medical tests 
  • Medications 
  • Surgeries 
  • DNR (do not resuscitate) orders 

Durable power of attorney for health care is a legal document that assigns a person of your choosing to make health care decisions for you only in situations when you are unable to make those decisions yourself. The person chosen has no authority to make health care decisions for you at any other time. It’s best to choose someone you know well and have a good relationship with. When deciding on who to choose, make sure to have a conversation with them to outline your wishes and make sure they are comfortable and able to fill the role.  

How do I start my advance care planning? 

When you are ready to make plans for your healthcare in unexpected situations, it can be daunting to know where to start. A good first step is to talk with your doctor or other health care provider. They can answer your questions and help you understand different treatment options you will want to consider. Next you will need to fill out the correct forms. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has a website with links and instructions for filling out advance directives in every state. The forms for Idaho are found at this website:  


These forms may be printed and filled out by hand or filled out digitally and then printed. It is a good idea to keep a digital as well as a physical copy on hand in an easy to find place. Copies should also be given to your doctor and your loved ones, so they are aware of the choices you are making in advance.  

Once your forms are completed and distributed it’s important to continue to check in and talk about your decisions with your doctor and loved ones. This can help make sure everyone is on the same page about your care. This also gives you the opportunity to update and make changes as necessary.  

If you have questions about advance directives or care for you or a loved one, we can help! Contact All Care Health Solutions today.  


Author: Tammy Rampton, RN, BSN 

Rampton Medical Writing