Advance care plans – what are they, and do I need one?


Last week was Advance Care Planning Week, a week dedicated to broadening understanding of what advance care planning is, promoting the benefits of advance care plans and helping Australians start their own advance care plan. It’s a great time to open up the conversation around advance care plans, if you need one and how to make one. The bottom line is that everyone should consider having an advance care plan in place, but if you are frail, have multiple medical conditions or a chronic medical condition, or you are elderly, having an advance care plan in place is even more important. 

What is advance care planning? When you ask this question, many people aren’t sure how to answer. Essentially, advance care planning is the process of making a written plan for any future medical care you might need where you are not able to communicate your own preferences or make your own decisions. Quite often, an advance care plan is most relevant to the care you receive at the end of your life. 

Sitting down with your family, friends and health care providers and discussing your wishes for what should happen if you were unable to make your own decisions and communicate your own wishes can be difficult, but it’s important that we all do it. If the time comes where your family needs to make decisions about your health and medical care, having an advance care plan in place will be of benefit not only to you, but it can also help to ease the anxiety of your family, and is also helpful to hospitals and medical professionals.   

When preparing your advance care plan, there is a lot to take into consideration. There may be certain outcomes that are acceptable to you, while others may not be. Similarly, there may be medical treatments and procedures that you don’t want to go through, and this can all be specified in your plan. It is also worth considering what quality of life would be acceptable to you, and this can help to guide other decisions around your advance health care planning. For example, if you were suffering from an incurable disease, you may wish to specify that you do not want feeding tubes or to be resuscitated. Before you start to discuss with your family, take a look at the Advance Care Planning Australia website – they have some great information about how to start the conversation about your advance care plan. 

The next question many people have is, why should you have an advance care plan? 

According to Advance Care Planning Australia, there are many benefits to having an advance care plan in place 

  • Both ongoing and end of life care is better 
  • Higher levels of satisfaction, both personally and for your loved ones 
  • Less stress, depression and anxiety, and higher levels of satisfaction with care are experienced by the families of those who have advance care plans in place 
  • Less transfers to acute care and fewer unwanted treatments  
  • It helps to ensure that you get the care you want 

There is no doubt that having an advance care plan in place is beneficial to everyone, but how do you set up an advance care plan? 

Each state in Australia has a different process for setting up an advance care plan. Wherever you live though, talking to your friends and family, doctor, other health care providers and support workers is an essential part of the process. It’s also vitally important that the decision you make regarding your advance care plan are recorded, and that you appoint a person to make decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so yourself.  

There are three ways to set up an advance care plan in Queensland: 

  • Complete an Enduring Power of Attorney 
  • Complete an Advance Healthcare Directive 
  • Complete a Statement of choices 

The Advance Care Planning Australia website has more information about the process, as well as relevant forms that can be downloaded. 

You can find the relevant process for advance care planning for all Australian states here