Imagine you are in an accident or sudden illness leaves you unable to speak for yourself. Your loved one or caregiver is faced with a difficult decision about whether to continue life-saving measures. How does that person know what to do?

Dr. Cary Schnitzer is medical director for OptumCare Arizona.

Discuss, decide and document. These are three important steps to take to ensure your future care preferences are known.  April 16 to April 22 is National Healthcare Decisions Week – a time to educate and empower people of all ages to create their advance care plan.

According to the Conversation Project, more than 90 percent of people think it’s important to have conversations about end-of-life care with their loved ones, yet less than 30 percent have done so. Planning for accidents or a sudden illness may feel awkward, but conversations with family members today can ensure your care preferences are honored and that your caregivers don’t have to guess what you want. 

It’s simpler than you think to get started. Here are a few tips:

• Choose an advocate. This should be someone who knows you well, is calm in a crisis, understands your decisions, is not afraid to ask questions of care providers and will advocate on your behalf. An advocate can be a close relative or friend, but should be someone who knows you well and someone you trust to follow your wishes.

• Talk with your advocate and doctor about your future care preferences. Let your advocate and doctors know what’s most important to you in life. What are the activities and abilities that make life most worth living? What are the things that give you comfort when you’re sick? When, if ever, should your advocate decide that it’s time to “let go”? And who should they include in that decision?

• Write it down. Formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. Learn more at

• Give copies of your plan to your advocate, family members and doctors. Review the document with your advocate, doctors and family members. Update and review the plan whenever your preferences or situation changes. Have the document placed in your medical records.

I have seen firsthand the sense of peace, calm and satisfaction families experience knowing their loved ones’ wishes are granted. Don’t make people guess what you want. Make your future care preferences known.