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Most people lack advance directives before elective surgery

A person holding a pen reviews important documents.

July 8, 2019—If you're too ill or injured to speak for yourself, an advance directive can make your wishes for medical care known. But in a new study, only about 30% of people scheduled for testing before elective surgery said they had one.

The study looked at the electronic medical records (EMRs) of 400 patients who underwent a pre-op evaluation. It also found that only 16% of them had an advance directive on file in an EMR their doctor could access.

Understanding advance directives

An advance directive is a legal document. If you are incapacitated, it spells out your preferences for end-of-life care, such as:

  • Whether you want to be resuscitated if your breathing or heartbeat stops.
  • If you want tube feeding or the use of a breathing machine.
  • Who you would like to make decisions on your behalf.

Don't take chances

Because of the risk of complications, an advance directive is especially important before surgery. Without one to guide them, families may face tough choices about care, the researchers said.

But even if you're in excellent health, it's still important to protect yourself with this document. That's because a medical crisis can happen anytime.

Without an advance directive, your family members may make decisions about your treatment based on their emotions, the researchers cautioned. And they may not make the choices you actually want.

The study appeared in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Do you have an advance directive?

Here's a look at the different kinds of advance directives—and how to make your wishes clear.

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