All posts by Ari Geller

The Importance of Advocacy

Paul Wilder, executive director of the Commonwell Health Alliance, shares on the Change Healthcare podcast why advocating for advance care plans and ensuring consumer education on the subject is crucial.

CommonWell Health Alliance is a not-for-profit trade association devoted to the simple vision that health data should be available to individuals and caregivers regardless of where care occurs.

4 Seniors: Is there an age limit for organ donation?

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor and potentially save lives after death.

In fact, there are many people well up into their 80s and 90s that donate. The decision to use your organs is based on health of the organ, not age. So, don’t disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

Donating Facts

In the United States alone, more than 112,000 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants. But because the demand is so much greater than the supply, those on the list routinely wait three to seven years for an organ, and more than 7,000 of them die each year.  

Organs that can be donated include the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, pancreas and intestines. Tissue is also needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal and often mean the difference between life and death. And heart valves repair cardiac defects and damage. 

By donating your organs after you die, you can save or improve as many as 50 lives. The United Network for Organ Sharing maintains the OPTN, a national computer registry that matches donors to waiting recipients.

Some other things you should know about being an organ donor are that it does not in any way compromise the medical care you would receive in a hospital if you are sick or injured, nor does it interfere with having an open-casket funeral if you want that option. And, most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider it as the final act of love and generosity toward others. 

How to Donate

If you would like to become a donor, there are several steps you should take to ensure your wishes are carried out, including:

Registering: Add your name to your state or regional organ and tissue donor registry. You can do this online at either OrganDonor.gov or DonateLife.net. If you don’t have Internet access, call Donate Life America at 804-377-3580 and they can sign you up over the phone.

Identify yourself: Designate your decision to become an organ donor on your driver’s license, which you can do when you go in to renew it. If, however, you don’t drive anymore or if your renewal isn’t due for a while, consider getting a state ID card – this also lets you indicate you want to be a donor. You can get an ID card for a few dollars at your nearby driver’s license office.

Tell your family: Even if you are a registered donor, in many states, family members have the ultimate say whether your organs may be donated after you die. So, clarify your wishes to family. Also tell your doctors and indicate your wishes in your advance directives. These are legal documents that spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. If you don’t have an advance directive, go to MyDirectives.com where you can create one for free.

TEDx: How to protect your body and your doctor’s soul during Covid-19

If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that a health emergency can strike at any moment. But are we prepared?

As Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne teaches us in her TEDx talk “How to protect your body and your doctor’s soul during Covid-19,” laying out your goals of care and delegating who speaks for you if you cannot speak for yourself before an emergency strikes can drastically help hospitals and patients adequately manage high-risk patients, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One third of Medicare spending occurs in the last year of life, often on treatments done without the consultation of the person receiving the care. COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues, often barring family and caretakers from visiting their loved ones in their last moments, creating not only a crisis of the soul, but within hospitals as well, as providers are left without crucial information into a patient’s medical wishes. Despite these truths, less than 30 percent of Americans have an advance care plan outlining their wishes that is accessible to medical providers.

As Dr. Clayborne discusses, advance care planning platforms such as MyDirectives help doctors understand someone’s values and goals in emergencies where patients cannot speak for themselves. “I want to know what you want, where is your voice, and what are your values?” Dr. Clayborne says. She doesn’t just speak from the perspective of a healthcare provider – she knows this from the perspective of a patient too, having given birth to a daughter in the middle of the pandemic.

Amid the pandemic, especially as we face the prospect of a deadly second wave, it is critical that Americans understand the ways in which they can help protect themselves, their families, and the healthcare workers that serve them.

What Quarantine Has Taught Us – Digital Health is a Must

Digital health tools — whether telehealth apps, electronic medical records or advance care plans — have become critically important over the past several months as people across the country stay home to flatten the curve. 

Doctors and healthcare providers have quickly adapted to caring for patients without seeing them in-person in order to ensure preventative health services, chronic condition care and treatments continue despite the coronavirus pandemic. Even as  states slowly reopen, our new normal is largely more digital and will remain that way. 

There’s never been a more critical time to get acquainted with the many digital health tools available to patients and consumers. We’re seven months into home quarantine with no return insight to what we all know as normal, and we must find ways to move aspects of our health and wellness online. 

Online resources that provide support to help keep your health in check, which range from online wellness tips to websites that help you organize your medical documents, have seen a significant uptick in traffic and usage during this pandemic. Online fitness classes that can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle can be found on every corner of the net and telehealth is now available from many providers – but what about advance care planning? Advance care plans are vital, especially now, and if you haven’t made one yet it’s time to start thinking about it. 

Advance care plans are critical to ensure you have a voice in your care in the event you cannot speak for yourself so doctors are able to  provide care that respects your wishes. They also allow people to designate a health proxy if they’re unable to speak for themselves. 

Especially now, with  COVID-19, it is essential to have an advance care plan in case you or your loved one cannot dictate healthcare desires. If you’re one of 75% of Americans over the age of 18 that don’t have a plan, now’s the time to make one. If you’re one of the far too few people who do have one, it’s likely out of date, and even worse, on paper! 

Many of us are quarantining far from home, worrying about loved ones and their health and well-being during this time. By encouraging them to create an advance care plan, you can ensure that their wishes will be respected in an emergency, even if you are not there. An advance care plan clearly articulates the needs of your loved ones to physicians and encourages families to have the tough conversations about health priorities that are necessary in this moment.

MyDirectives.com is a free online platform that allows you to upload video, paper documents and more and has an accompanying iphone app. Plans created online are more accessible and can be taken anywhere, unlike paper copies that are often hard to find or out of reach in times of crisis. Another benefit of creating an online plan is that your plan can be altered at any time and shared with family as well as medical providers whenever necessary. 

In an emergency we also have to ask ourselves, would we remember to bring all essential documents and would we know where to find them? A digital advance care plan makes it easy to access important materials and leaves you with a little less to worry about during a health crisis. 

Many people still find comfort in carrying something with them, in case your cell phone dies, or you’re locked out of a loved one’s phone and you serve as their proxy. MyDirectives is one digital platform that also has an accompanying wallet card that allows doctors to quickly access your medical history when you arrive at the hospital. Doctors can scan this card to access your medical history as well as your advance care plan. 

Now more than ever, we must utilize the technology available to us to ensure our safety and protect what is important to us when disaster strikes. By planning ahead and using your resources, you and your loved ones can be prepared for any medical emergency. Protect the wishes of yourself and your loved ones, make an advance care plan today. 

iMedical App: MyDirectives -A good advance planning app for patients

by Douglas Maurer DO, MPH, FAAFP via MedPage Today

Despite universal recommendations from numerous healthcare groups, most people lack an advance care plan. One study found that only approximately 25% of adults in the HealthStyles Survey had completed one. Additionally, the lack of an advance care plan leads to unwanted care — for example, in another study, 25% of patients cited unwanted care as a fear. Many patients and providers simply don’t fully understand what is/isn’t an advance care plan. These are not simply DNR/DNI orders, a living will, or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) or similar medical orders. These advance care plans include statements of patients’ wishes at the end of life, CPR desires, care at home/hospice, organ donation, etc.

MyDirectives first launched their companion app for iOS in 2015. Both the website and app can be used separately, but ideally they should be together. The website is probably the best place to start, but I did my plan on the app first, and then went to the website to fill it out more completely.

The website discusses the goals of “create, update, and share.” This way a user can immediately complete and sign a valid advance care plan and share it with their family, friends, and healthcare providers. Any updates made in the app or on the website seamlessly sync with one another and with the Apple Health app. The app allows the user to digitally sign the plan, make a video of the person’s wishes; use photos and videos to confirm the person’s identity; share the plan with others via email, text, and QR reader; and show the plan on an iPhone lockscreen, etc.

The multimedia components of the website and app are outstanding. A truly polished product — and completely free!