Health care professional talking with adult couple

Advance Care Planning

There may be times when you cannot make your own health care choices. Planning in advance for this is an important part of taking an active role in your care. The tools below along with a conversation with your doctor—to understand your condition and decisions you may have to make about your care—and your family, will help make clear your wishes to receive care if you become terminally ill or experience a serious medical emergency.

Advance Health Care and Mental Health Care Directives

An advance health care directive is a written document that includes information about the health care you want to receive if you are unable to tell your doctor. A mental health advance directive is a written document that includes information about the mental health care you want to receive if you are unable to tell your doctor. There are two main kinds of advance directives:

  • Living Will—this allows you to write your choices about life support and other medical care. These choices would be carried out only when you cannot understand, make, and voice your treatment choices and you either have an end-stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney—this allows you to write the name of the person you want to make health care choices for you. This person is called your “health care agent.” You decide what choices your health care agent may make, when they may make those choices, and how you want them to make your choices. An advance health care directive can include choices for both physical and mental health. You also could create a separate mental health advance directive.

There are five basic steps to making an Advance Health Care Directive:

  1. Talk with your doctor to help you understand your medical condition and decisions you may have to make about your care
  2. Name a health care agent who will make health care choices for you if you are not able to make them for yourself
  3. Decide your health care choices for things such as life-support and pain control and other relief
  4. Write down your choices using any of the sample forms listed below, other sample forms, or you may write your own. Sign and date the form with two adult witnesses.
  5. Share your choices with your doctors and family. Keep a copy in safe place and take a copy with you if you are admitted to a hospital, nursing home, or other health care facility.

Pennsylvania Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

If you have a serious health condition, you may want to work with your medical team to create a POLST form, which is a brightly colored medical order form that indicates the types of life-sustaining treatment you do or do not want if you become seriously ill.

Additional information about the form, including sample forms, and a wallet card are available online.

Organ Donation

HAP and Pennsylvania hospitals are actively raising donor awareness, clarifying common myths, and working to increase the number of organ donors in the commonwealth. With more than 8,300 Pennsylvanians awaiting organ transplants and thousands of others awaiting tissue transplants, consider organ donation as a part of your planning. You can learn more from Pennsylvania’s Center for Organ Recovery & Education and Gift of Life Donor Program. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation makes it easy to designate your wishes to become an organ donor on your driver’s license. 


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