Older Australians urged to organise advanced care plans in light of Covid-19

Aug 13, 2020
It's time for high-risk Australians to put pen to paper and come up with an advanced care plan. Source: Getty.

As it stands, 75 per cent of older Australians don’t have a plan in place to guide their treatment if they suddenly feel unwell meaning their decisions will be made for them if the situation ever occurs. Advanced care plans give people a voice on the type of care they’d want if they were unable to speak – and with parts of Australia currently in the midst of a second wave of the pandemic, early preparation is more important than ever before.

A new report by researchers and clinicians from Advance Care Planning Australia has delved into the healthcare system’s response to Covid-19 – particularly in the case of older Australians and those living with chronic or life-limiting conditions. The report recommends that increasing the number of advanced care plans could help to manage surges in healthcare demands and reduce the need to ration vital medical equipment amid Australia’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Those who are at an increased risk of contracting Covid-19, including older Australians and people with chronic illnesses, have been urged to start the conversation about their advanced care plans under the pretence that early preparation could help to encourage scenarios where virus treatments are prioritised for those who both want and need it, rather than to those who would prefer to avoid invasive treatment.

While the prevalence of the pandemic is definitely helping to bring the issue to the forefront, with a third of Australians dying before they’re 75 and most people dying from a chronic illness as opposed to a sudden event, advanced care plans have long been urgently important regardless of the current climate.

And although the conversation around preparing for severe illness can make people uneasy, Dr Chris Moy, Vice President of the Australian Medical Association said that those who feel so strongly about being prepared deserve to have their choices respected and rights heard.

“Most of us expect to have a say in our medical treatment, however when events change suddenly, people may be left without a voice or choice, if no plan is in place,” he said. “I encourage all Australians, but particularly older people, and those with chronic illness such as heart disease or cancer, to talk to your doctor about your situation and preferences. A little planning today, may save a lot of stress tomorrow.”

At a policy level, the report also recommended that the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) be updated to incorporate more information regarding system-wide advanced care plan implementation. This is said to be a massive improvement on what currently stands in the response plan which is a singular mention of advanced care plans that vaguely references how it should be coordinated.

The report also mentioned other key recommendations for the health sector including increasing health and aged care workforce competency in assisting with advanced care plans, putting systems in place to store and access the relevant plan documents such as My Health Record and for GPs to start making conversations regarding advanced care plans a routine part of aged care.

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