Updated: Apr 2, 2020
For many of us, the uncertainty and social isolation caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has brought to the forefront what’s most important in life: human connection and our loved ones. In light of this reminder, now is the perfect time to make sure your medical affairs are in order and your family is taken care of in case anything unexpected were to happen.
Even if you are relatively young and healthy, it’s important to be prepared for any possibility. Think about it like getting ready to have a baby: even if the baby isn’t due in the immediate future, expecting parents usually have a hospital bag packed with extra clothes, toiletries, and other essentials so they can be ready for the inevitable and don’t have to make split-second decisions among more immediate concerns.
If you have some extra time on your hands and are looking for something productive to do during social distancing, consider sitting down and preparing your medical affairs. Here's what I recommend as a patient advocate.
Write Your Medical History
Perhaps the best place to start when preparing your affairs is by writing a comprehensive medical history, which will help you and your care team make the most informed decisions regarding your health.
A comprehensive history should include:
A list of medications you’re taking.
A list of known allergies.
A list of existing medical conditions.
Your surgical and hospitalization history.
Contact information for primary care and specialist physicians.
Emergency contact information.
Contact information for your patient advocate (if applicable).
A list of individuals with whom the physician is authorized to discuss your care.
While your doctor likely has much of this information on file (or will ask you for it when you establish yourself as a new patient), there are many smart reasons to have your own version of your medical history in writing as well. For one, your doctor might not have all pertinent information on file; providing your history ensures information is correct, up-to-date, and complete as well as reduces the chances you’ll forget something important when recounting your medical history, such as the name or dosage of a medication. This information will also be readily available in an emergency in the case you’re not able to provide it.
Having a written medical history available is especially important for older adults suffering from memory issues or individuals with a language barrier who may not be able to communicate their history to medical staff. Non-English speakers can complete their history with the help of an interpreter or a friend, relative, or advocate who speaks English.
If you need help getting started, many medical history templates can be found online. However, you may find it best to customize or create your own template to meet your personal needs, either on your own or with the help of a patient advocate.
Determine Advance Directives
Advance directives notify your healthcare team of your wishes when it comes to making critical medical decisions in the event you’re not able to communicate these wishes yourself. By spelling out your advance directives, you can rest assured knowing you’ll experience the healthcare journey you’ve chosen for yourself. Furthermore, your family members will not have to grapple with the complicated emotions of guessing at these decisions on your behalf.
Setting out advance directives is especially important during this time as COVID-19 raises new ethical questions around healthcare. Patients now have to consider their care wishes in the face of acute, life-threatening illness as it becomes an increasingly possible reality.
Below are some quality resources to help you make informed choices and have meaningful conversations with your loved ones about your advance directives.
The Conversation Project
Along with other tools, The Conversation Project offers multiple useful starter kits to guide you on how to begin the conversation around advance directives for either yourself or a loved one. Starter kits come in more than a dozen languages and include conversations such as general advance directives, choosing a healthcare proxy, speaking with elderly family members with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, talking to your doctor, and advance directives for pediatric patients.
Compliant with all but five states’ advance directive instructions, Five Wishes is an easy-to-follow tool for planning out your advance directives. The worksheet, currently available for free download during the coronavirus outbreak, walks users through five key considerations to make regarding their medical care and end-of-life experience.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO)
The NHPCO website houses a directory of advance directives and instructions for each state. It also includes a bevy of other resources to help you make informed choices around care and end-of-life decisions.
A patient advocate can help walk you through the options, weigh your choices, and prepare your advance directives if you need a second opinion or a little extra support.
Create a Hospital Checklist
In the case you are hospitalized due to COVID-19 or another condition, it’s important to leave the hospital with all the important information you need. Understanding how you can aid your recovery, when to follow up with your care team, and which symptoms to monitor, among other information, can help keep you from returning to the hospital and lead to better outcomes.
Preparing a list of questions to ask now, before anything might happen, will ensure you have your bases covered while being able to focus wholeheartedly on your recovery. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offers a Care About Your Care discharge checklist as an actionable means of making sure you leave the hospital equipped with everything you need to know.
Putting your health affairs in order and speaking with your family about your care choices can be a difficult process. These decisions can be especially unsettling to make in these uncertain times. A professional patient advocate is trained and prepared to help you be prepared. While it may be difficult to face your mortality so directly, preparing for the worst ensures you and your family are taken care of according to your wishes in the unexpected event that something tragic does occur.