Advance care plans urged

Encouraging people to start potentially difficult discussions about their future healthcare needs is the purpose of a new national day launched by health authorities.

The first ''Conversations that Count Day'', aiming to encourage people to plan their future health needs in a process called advance care planning (ACP), was launched last week.

Most people were happy to plan for when children left home, or for retirement, but were not keen to think ahead about their own health needs, said Southern District Health Board advanced care planning working group chairwoman Debbie Hannah.

''Many people just don't want to think about it. We want to get the message out there that people have a choice around their future care, where it is delivered, treatments that may or may not be acceptable and, most of all, that their beliefs and wishes are respected.''

Ideally, an advance care plan would be developed and stored alongside medical records. Dunedin GP Dr Jill McIlraith said it was a ''pity'' to leave such planning until serious illness was manifest, which was a time of stress.

''I think this is a valuable initiative - they are never easy conversations to have but even more so once there is crisis; for example, discovering that a family has metastatic cancer, or a brain tumour.

''I think such conversations are best held within the family, and not necessarily suitable for a 15 to 20-minute doctor consultation.

''It is a bit like health education in lots of areas whether it be about preventing obesity or cardiac disease, or keeping oneself safe regarding drinking, alcohol and sex - the earlier in a person's life such discussions take place, the more likely they are to be successful.''

The day is co-ordinated by the National Advance Care Planning co-operative.

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