Dr. Kathy Neely, chairwoman of the Medical Ethics Committee at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said experts at Northwestern Medicine -- a program operated by Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine -- are encouraging patients to plan ahead, express their wishes and document their healthcare decisions, so there's a plan in place for families to follow.
There are two main forms of advanced directives, power of attorney for healthcare and living will. Power of attorney for healthcare names a specific individual designated to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient, whereas a living will spells out what kind of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures physicians should carry out, Neely said.
Doctors rely on these documents only when patients are unable to make decisions due to the severity of their medical condition, Neely said.
"Advanced directives have the power to lift the burden of confusion from family and friends during a health crisis, allowing them to focus their energy on supporting the patient and one another," Neely said in a statement.
The idea of creating an advanced directive can be daunting, since most people do not wish to think about situations that warrant the document, but having an advanced directive in place puts one in control and should foster peace of mind, Neely said.
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