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​Advance Care Planning: Conversation is Key to End-of-Life Care

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PITTSBURGH, April 15, 2016 - More than 90 percent of people think it is important to talk about their wishes should they become seriously ill, but less than 30 percent have actually had the conversation with their loved ones. National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16, and it serves as a reminder to take the time to talk with family and loved ones about desired care in the event of a serious illness or medical emergency.

Advance care planning is the process of deciding future medical care if a person becomes too sick or injured to make their own medical decisions. The person chooses a health care agent who becomes responsible for speaking on the patient’s behalf, and for informing health care professionals about their values should their health worsen.

"The easiest time to think about end-of-life care is before an illness or crisis occurs, when you have time for discussion and reflection with your loved ones. By taking the time to go through this process, you can promote peace of mind in a difficult situation if your loved ones are ever called upon to make decisions for you," said Bob Arnold, M.D., medical director of the Palliative and Supportive Institute at UPMC. "The conversations are difficult to start, and talking to your family ahead of time will help them feel more secure in any decisions they have to make" he added.

It is equally important to document those conversations, notes Dr. Arnold. To help with this process, UPMC has launched the Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive, available to anyone in the community, which can be downloaded without charge at

"Every patient has different beliefs and values that influence the types of care they wish to receive should their health worsen," said Dr. Arnold. "If a patient is unable to speak for him or herself and someone else is present to voice their wishes, it becomes possible to care for that person in the ways they desire."

At 11 a.m., Thursday, April 28, UPMC will host a tele-town hall for seniors, their caregivers or anyone seeking information about this important topic. Dr. Bob Arnold and elder law attorney Julian Gray, joined by local television celebrity Patrice King Brown, will initiate a 30-minute phone conversation about advance care planning. Anyone wishing to participate can call 877-228-2184, and use passcode 111835 to join the call.