Welcoming the conversation

“Now I know about this, I can’t ignore it. It will be on my conscience until I talk to my doctor about it.”

This comment made by one of the attendees of an Advance Care Planning (ACP) Fair in New West this past weekend, seemed to echo the view of many who attended. The fair, part of a Shared Care Fraser Northwest Division project (a partnership of Doctors of BC and Ministry of Health), brought together doctors, social workers, nurses and others to share suggestions and strategies on how to talk to loved ones about Advance Care Planning, and to raise awareness about this important issue.

Advance Care Planning is about allowing your loved ones, your health care team and family physician to be better equipped and confident to make medical choices on your behalf in situations where you may not be able to speak for yourself.  

The Physician Lead for the project states "On every shift, I encounter the struggles of families who have never had any Advance Care Planning conversations," says Dr. Joelle Bradley, a hospitalist at Royal Columbian and a leading advocate for ACP.  “When family members have never talked about values and priorities, making medical decisions can cause great stress, guilt and turmoil,” notes Bradley. 

The fair focused on helping the public understand what issues need to be discussed with ACP, and what could help us prepare for the conversation. A number of tables guided you through the process, each staffed by health professionals knowledgeable about the area, willing to explore the topic and answer questions. As an example, doctors at the ‘Learn’ table provided information on medical technologies and procedures, and what they can and can’t do.

Feedback was welcomed and 83% of the 221 people who attended completed surveys. All 83% responded favourably, agreeing or strongly agreeing on a number of questions; 92% stated that they are now “more confident speaking about ACP with their family”, “with their family doctors” (91%), “choosing a substitute decision maker” (83%), and with “documenting their health care values and wishes” (94%). 98% found the fair informative.

A recent story in the New West Record poignantly demonstrates the value of having the ACP conversation. Elaine Kelley, a former nurse who recently lost her husband Don says, “We were happy to talk about our values — formed over 55 years of marriage. In the end letting those values be known allowed Don to have the peaceful, calm death he wanted, naturally.” Read Elaine and Don’s story here.

For more information about ACP see www.advancecareplanning.ca, My Voice Guide, and a recently released Doctors of BC Advance Care Policy Paper.