Experts urge planning not panic

As Australia prepares itself for the impact of COVID-19, medical experts are urging people to plan for a scenario where they become suddenly unwell, by clarifying their preferred medical treatment and the person they wish to make their decisions

The medical director of Advance Care Planning Australia (ACPA), Dr Karen Detering, and Dr Chris Moy, chair of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) ethics committee and advance care planning ambassador, are urging people to prepare now for the months ahead.

Families need to prepare for a time where they may be called upon to make decisions for their loved one who may become suddenly ill with coronavirus,” Dr Moy said. “Research tells us that too many families find themselves in the devastating situation of making decisions blindly, without knowing or discussing their loved ones’ preferences. There is an opportunity to act now.

Advance care planning is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for older Australians, particularly those with existing conditions such as lung and heart disease, cancer and diabetes. 

We recommend they start a conversation with people close to them and potentially choose a substitute decision maker they can trust to make decisions for them if needed.

We’re mindful that these conversations can be very challenging, particularly in light of the anxiety around COVID-19, but being prepared for future events can also provide individuals and families peace of mind amidst the uncertainty of these unsettling times.

Best case scenario is that these plans are never required. But it can be reassuring for a person to know they have some control. It’s also a great gift to give your family and lessens the burden of difficult future decisions,” said Dr Moy.

ACPA operates a free National Advisory Service to support the general public and health and aged care providers regarding advance care planning.

For some people the global coronavirus pandemic is a powerful trigger to take a more active approach to their future care. If you need advice, please call us. We’re here to help,” said Dr Detering.

We understand that there’s a lot of confusion and fear at the moment. While we don’t want to exacerbate anxieties, we do want Australian families to feel as prepared as possible for what lies ahead.

I’ve seen what families go through when they are required to make these decisions for family members in an emergency, and without preparation. A little planning today can go a long way towards alleviating the decision-making burden left to your loved ones. 

Be clear about what you want or don’t want. It starts with a simple conversation about what living well means to you,” said Dr Detering.

For families and individuals wishing to document their preferences or choose a substitute decision maker, ACPA recommends completing an advance care directive and/or formally appointing a substitute decision maker. 

Access to information and relevant forms can be found at

The National Advisory Service operates Monday – Friday (AEST) on 1300 208 582.

Have you filled out an advanced care directive in case you become seriously unwell?

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Written by Ben


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