National Health Care Decisions Day: It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late

Health care decisions can be overwhelming. Planning can help.

National Health Care Decisions Day (NHCDD), on April 16, is a national initiative to “inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning” ( It encourages patients to make health care decisions about what is most important to them including what care they would or would not want to receive, so that their health care providers can respect those wishes whatever they may be. The theme for 2016 is “It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late.” National Health Care Decisions Day provides people with resources to guide them in discussion and prepare for future health care situations. It includes more than living wills. The process should primarily focus on choosing a health care power of attorney, as well as documenting the kinds of medical treatments wanted near the end of life.

All individuals should think about their wishes and preferences regarding their own health care. Conversations about these preferences with health care providers and loved ones can help avoid unnecessary suffering and relieve caregivers of decision-making burdens during a medical crisis.

Individuals should complete an Advance Directive, which is a legal document that spells out patient preferences for end-of-life care ahead of time. It becomes legally valid as soon as the patient signs the document with required witnesses.

These documents come in two main forms:

  1. A “health care power of attorney” documents the person you select to be your voice for your health care decisions if you cannot speak for yourself.
  2. A “living will” documents what kinds of medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life.

For more information and resources about how to make, discuss and document future health care wishes and decisions, visit