Understanding advance care planning

Talking about choices

If a person was unwell and not able to communicate their preferences to others, how could we know what they'd want? Who would speak for them?

Advance care planning ensures that the person you are caring for, their family, friends and/or carer know what the person's health and care choices really are. That can give everyone some peace of mind.

Ideally, an advance care plan should be a written, but it can also just be a conversation.

A person doesn't have to be ill to make a plan. Healthy people are encouraged to think about their health and care preferences and discuss them with their family, friends, carer and/or healthcare team.

The process is simple: a person thinks about their values, then discusses them with their family, carers, doctors, and nurses or care staff. A person can choose someone to make decisions for them if they were ever unable to do so themselves. That person is called as a 'substitute decision-maker' and they speak for the very ill person. The plan should ideally be documented, reviewed and when the time comes, activated.

An advance care plan only goes into effect if a person is unable make decisions for themselves. When that times comes, the advance care plan guides everyone to make decisions that respect the person's values and preferences.

Advance care planning benefits everyone:  the person, their family, carers, health professionals and associated organisations.

  • It helps to ensure people receive the care they actually want.
  • It improves ongoing and end-of-life care, along with personal and family satisfaction.1
  • Families of people who have an advance care plan have less anxiety, depression, stress and are more satisfied with care.1
  • For healthcare professionals and organisations, it reduces unnecessary transfers to acute care and unwanted treatment.2
1. Detering, KM, Hancock, AD, Reade, MC, Silvester, W 2010, ‘The impact of advance care planning on end of life care in elderly patients: randomised controlled trial’, British Medical Journal, 340: c1345.doi:10.1136.
2. Brinkman-Stoppelenburg A, Rietjens JA, van der Heide A. The effects of advance care planning on end-of-life care: a systematic review. Palliat Med 2014; 28: 1000–1025.

Grandfather telling son health preferences

Advance care planning for family, friends and carers

When should I talk about advance care planning?

Starting the conversation early gives people and their families, friends or carer time to discuss what's really important for them to live well.

Read more information

Related resources

  • Fact sheet

    Advance care planning fact sheet for individuals and family

    Advance Care Planning Australia

    Information about advance care planning for individuals and their families.
  • Fact sheet

    Advance care planning fact sheet for substitute decision-makers

    Advance Care Planning Australia

    Information about advance care planning for substitute decision-makers.
  • Website

    MyValues website

    Barwon Health

    MyValues is an online resource to help people identify, consider and communicate their preferences about the health and personal care they would want in the later stages of life. The website provides advance care planning information and allows for development of a MyValues Report.
  • Website

    ACP by state and territory

    Australian Government

    This fact sheet is a snapshot of state and territory requirements for legal documents to create an advance care plan.

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