COVID-19 a sobering reminder of need for advanced health care decisions

Coronavirus cases are forcing many families to make heartbreaking decisions about the care of their loved ones. Doctors hope if you’re ever sidelined by any medical condition, your family members will know what to do.

“The first thing we always do is we inquire of family: Has the patient ever written anything down? Have there ever been any email exchanges? Have there been any important conversations prior?” said Dr. Danielle Doberman, medical director for the palliative medicine program at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

While it may be a difficult topic to broach ahead of time, “everybody needs to have these conversations, whether we’re in a pandemic or not. It’s always good to be prepared,” she said. “And those families that are prepared always have much less anxiety if we need to use this information.”

It’s also important to identify a person — and they don’t have to be a relative — who can be a surrogate decision-maker. And while a living will is a critical item, “the living will is paper. More important is the conversation,” Doberman said.

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That conversation should center around how much treatment a person would want. “For some people that may be in the hospital, and that may be all technology possible. For other people that may be a more tempered response to what happens when they become ill,” she said. In the current COVID-19 environment, it could mean choosing to decline a breathing tube and ventilator.

National Health care Decisions Day, a day when people are encouraged to think about their health care plans, is on April 16.

“I know a lot of people are afraid of having these discussions,” Doberman said, “but in the end it’s easier.”

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John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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