Talking to your doctor about end-of-life care

Apr 23, 2019, 2:38 PM | Updated: 2:42 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — According to a study by The Conversation Project, 90% of Americans believe that talking to their loved ones about end-of-life care is important. But the same study found that only 27% of respondents have actually had the conversation.

“It’s a difficult topic to talk about,” said Dr. Chad Bittner, speaking with KSL NewsRadio’s Maria Shilaos. “You are talking about how to make decisions for when you’re at the end of your life.”

In recognition of National Healthcare Decisions Week, Bittner joined Shilaos on last week’s episode of Let’s Get Moving with Maria to discuss end-of-life care and the conversations surrounding it.


It’s important to discuss and document your preferences for end-of-life care, Bittner said, for the benefit of both yourself and your loved ones.

“Things can change very quickly and put you in a situation where you can’t speak for yourself,” Bittner explained. “If you haven’t discussed this with others and written it down on paper as to what your wishes are, very few people, if any, are going to know what you want done.”

“That’s extremely stressful, not only for you, but for loved ones, family members and even your healthcare providers,” he continued.

If you haven’t considered or relayed your wishes in the event of an accident or unexpected decline, Bittner offered these tips.

Consider your wishes privately

“My advice is to first just start thinking about the conversation,” Bittner told Shilaos. “What do you want done in case you need life-sustaining treatment?”

Designate an advocate

“When you’re ready to sit down and have the conversation, choose an advocate, somebody you trust — maybe a family member or a trusted friend — to sit down and start having that conversation and put your thoughts together,” Bittner said.

Involving a family member or friend in your conversation is advantageous to you, Bittner explained, but also to that person — having direct insight into your end-of-life wishes can ease potential stress on them by equipping them to fulfill your desires more confidently.

“It’s important to start that conversation before you even sit down with your doctor so you have an understanding of what you want done and what your family members’ decision-making process is going to be,” Bittner said.

Use forms to guide your conversation with your doctor

When you are ready to speak with your doctor, Bittner recommended using one of several forms to guide the conversation. The standard “Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment,” or POLST form, is an option, Bittner said, as is a less formal version on the Conversation Project’s website.

“It can help you start talking and walking through a more relaxed form to answer those questions and talk about what needs to be discussed,” Bittner said of the form.

Document your wishes

While end-of-life wishes are different than a will, it’s still important to keep them written down, Bittner said.

“If you’re in a situation where you can’t speak for yourself, someone is going to need to speak for you,” he said. “And in order to do that, they have to know what your wishes are.”

Bittner emphasized that writing your wishes down is not the same as setting them in stone, and that you can change them at any time.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind tomorrow or ten minutes from now,” he said. “It’s just about starting that conversation.”

Start conversations sooner rather than later

It’s fully appropriate to discuss these things with your adult children and even teens, Bittner said.

“When you’re younger, you think you’re invincible. You think ‘this is never going to happen to me,’ or ‘I’m never going to be in one of these situations.’ But an accident can occur at any moment,” Bittner said. “It’s never too early to start talking about these things.”

You can listen to the full episode here or subscribe to the podcast here.


Today’s Top Stories


red cross van...
Alejandro Lucero

Utah Red Cross urges residents to donate in wake of Hurricane Ian

All Utahns are urged to donate but especially those with type O blood. You can schedule an appointment online, through their app, or over the phone.
1 day ago
Intermountain drone delivery...
Chris Jacobs

Intermountain Healthcare and Zipline launch drone delivery service

A new drone delivery system by Intermountain Healthcare and Zipline is unveiled on Oct. 4. The program will service the Salt Lake Valley.
1 day ago
Mosquitos at a Utah lab are pictured....
Britt Johnson

Uptick in mosquitos in Utah caused by recent weather and temperatures

Mosquitos in Utah have seen a growth in population thanks to recent weather. While aggressive, they are not the disease-carrying breed.
2 days ago
Turkey and cattle farms near Moroni, Utah. Three additional cases of avian influenza have been conf...
Mark Jones

Three additional cases of avian influenza confirmed in Sanpete County

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food announced Friday that three additional cases of avian influenza have been confirmed on turkey farms in Sanpete County.
5 days ago
A sign for the Food and Drug Administration is seen outside of the headquarters in July 2020 in Whi...
Jacqueline Howard, CNN

ALS drug gets FDA approval despite uncertainty about effectiveness

The US Food and Drug Administration approved a new treatment for ALS on Thursday.
5 days ago
university of utah...
Mark Jones

University of Utah Health among the nation’s top 10 for 13th year in row

The 2022 Vizient Bernard A. Birnbaum, MD, Quality Leadership Award has ranked University of Utah Health in the top 10 for the 13th straight year.
6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Talking to your doctor about end-of-life care