Do You Have it Together? How Tech is Helping Educate About Advance Directives

July 2013 marks the four-year anniversary of  Jose Hernado’s death. On July 17 in 2009, he kissed his wife Chanel Reynolds goodbye, left home on a bike ride and never came back. Jose was struck by a van. He was taken to the ER and spent a week in the ICU being kept alive via medical support before Chanel made the decision to stop all interventions.

In addition to the shock of suddenly being a widow with a five-year-old son, she struggled with unsigned wills, not knowing how much life insurance she had and accessing accounts because she didn’t know her husband’s passwords. Because of her experience, Chanel launched the website Get Your Shit Together in January 2013.

I don’t know Chanel but her story really hits home. I first heard about her site from my yoga teacher, Nichole Churchill, owner of Radiant Heart Yoga in Algonquin, Ill. Nichole works with women, mothers, babies and children and is a great resource to young families. The majority of her yoga students, myself included, could quickly be in Chanel’s shoes.

Chanel is using the power of the online environment to raise awareness and provide resources to help others be prepared should they someday find themselves in a similar situation. On her site, you can find tools to help you with money, insurance, wills and other details necessary for estate planning. She is also raising funds to publish the resource Get Your Shit Together Guidebook: Life and Death Planning Made Easy.

Chanel isn’t the only one who sees the importance of using technology to help promote advanced directive accessibility.  In 2012, West Virginia  launched an electronic advance directive registry. Through the registry advance directives  are available online 24/7 to patient care providers. The goal of the system is to improve communication about patients’ wishes. No longer will family members have to hunt for do not resusitate or living will forms. They’ll be accessible through the registry.  These types of databases also would compliment programs like the Gundersen Health Systems’ Respecting Choices program in La Crosse, Wisc.

In 1991, La Crosse’s health care leaders collaborated to develop and test an end-of-life planning and decision making model.  The program is different than other programs because in addition to  print material and videos to educate the public, it also provided the one-on-one assistance by trained staff. The program brought together community and healthcare leaders and professionals, and after two years of full implementation, the project appeared to have had a significant effect on end-of-life planning and decision making. Of the 540 adult deaths in the La Crosse community studied from April 1995 until March 1996, advance directives had been written by 85 percent of those who died. Of those the patients with advance directives, 96 percent had the documents present in their medical records.

But, unfortunately, the advance directive rates in La Crosse are not the norm. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s critical issue brief Advance Care Planning: Ensuring Your Wishes Are Known and Honored If You Are Unable to Speak For Yourself, only about one-third of adults had advance directives in 2006.

This is why projects like Chanel Reynolds’ site are so important. Websites and social media can help people be prepared for the inevitable by making estate and advance directive planning understandable and accessible.

Advance directives and estate planning are road maps to help your loved ones honor your wishes and navigate life after loss. Help honor Chanel’s husband Jose’s memory by drafting your own plans. And consider donating to her crowd funding campaign to help her launch the guidebook.

Chanel’s words explain the importance of planning best, so I will leave you with them:

“I created this project because one of the worst things we can collectively imagine happened to my family. It was harrowing. But really, a lot of the crappy suffering could have been avoided—there must be a more humane way for us to navigate this life and death wilderness.” –Chanel Reynolds

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Jennifer Thew, RN, MSJ

Jennifer Thew, RN, MSJ, is a registered nurse and journalist who has covered healthcare issues and how they relate to the nursing profession. She began her nursing career as a neuroscience nurse at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and then transitioned to journalism after receiving a degree from Roosevelt University in Chicago. She has edited and written numerous articles on a wide range of nursing and healthcare topics like Accountable Care Organizations, evidence-based practice and telehealth.

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