How to discuss end of life care with your doctor


April is considered Healthcare Decisions month, a time to complete an advance directive or to review one already completed to ensure it continues to reflect the care you want, or don’t want, at the end of life. The next step is to discuss your end-of-life wishes with your doctor.   Studies show that the single most powerful thing you can do to improve your chance for a “good death” is, to simply and courageously, talk about it with your doctor.

Talking with your doctor or healthcare providers about your end-of-life wishes is a discussion to have before a medical crisis happens.  Even if you’re in good health, it’s still important to make sure your healthcare team knows your wishes, since anyone’s health status can change suddenly.

Here are some tips on how to begin.

  • When you make your appointment, make it clear you want to talk to your doctor about end-of-life care. That way the staff can set aside time for this important conversation.
  • Decide whether you want a family member to join you or if you prefer a private conversation. Let the staff know if someone else may be included when you make the appointment.
  • If you already have an advance directive, bring it and any other information about your end-of-life care priorities with you.
  • Make sure your doctor is willing to follow your directive. The law does not force physicians to follow a directive if they disagree with your wishes for moral or ethical reasons.
  • Assure your doctor that you have discussed your wishes with family and your appointed health care agent and that they respect your decisions.

The time to plan for end-of-life care is before you need it.  Schedule the conversation now, so that when the time comes, you and your doctor have a foundation for moving forward and honoring your wishes.  For a free conversation starter kit from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Conversation Project, visit or call 978-552-4186.

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