HONOLULU --Tripler Army Medical Center will join other healthcare facilities around the country this Monday, April 16, to recognize the fifth annual National Healthcare Decisions Day.

One may ask, "What is National Healthcare Decisions Day, and how does this pertain to my health?"

The answer is quite simple, and highlights the importance of patient-centered care and open dialogue between patients, their families, and their healthcare providers.

National Healthcare Decisions Day is intended to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance healthcare planning. Too often, patients and their family members do not communicate their concerns, values and wishes regarding future healthcare decisions with their healthcare providers.

Admittedly, this is a very personal, potentially complex, and at times challenging discussion. At issue are considerations of what healthcare a patient would want and not want, and who they would wish to speak on their behalf if they were unable to do so.

As such, National Healthcare Decisions Day hopes to raise awareness about the importance of this dialogue between patients, families, and providers.

All patients have the right, as set forth by Congress in the 1990 Patient Self-Determination Act, to articulate their future healthcare wishes in writing in the form of an "advance directive."

Patients should be empowered and encouraged to openly communicate their wishes regarding future healthcare and/or end-of-life care they would like to receive. In addition, they have the right to designate a family member, relative or friend to speak on their behalf if unable to do so.
These wishes may be formally documented in an advance directive, which is a legal document reflecting these advance care decisions.

Medical evidence supports this dialogue and the importance of advance healthcare planning. In a 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and 2010 issue of BMJ, research was published that found these discussions can improve end-of-life care and patient quality of life, and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in surviving family members.

However, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, despite this data, less than half of severely or terminally ill patients evaluated in a study had an advance directive in their medical record and only 12 percent of patients with an advance directive had received input from their physician in its development. Additionally, between 65 and 76 percent of physicians whose patients had an existing advance directive were not aware that it existed.

We should all, patients and providers alike, be aware of the healthcare rights and choices of individuals and do all we can to promote autonomy through patient-centered care.

National Healthcare Decisions Day serves as an important day to recognize that early healthcare discussions and decisions are important and will positively impact both the care we give and the care we receive.

Want more information on National Healthcare Decisions Day or how to create an advance directive?

Representatives from Tripler Army Medical Center's hospital ethics team will be available at both of the hospital entrances, Monday, April 16, 8 a.m.-noon, to provide additional information and answer questions. An additional discussion about advance healthcare decisions is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18, noon-1 p.m. in the 10th floor oceanside conference room. Everyone is welcome.

(Editor's Note: Lt. Col. Matthew Studer is the chief of Pediatric Cardiology and associate chair of the Ethics Committee at Tripler Army Medical Center.)