When Dr. Joelle Bradley’s team organized an Advance Care Planning (ACP) workshop on behalf of the Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice in British Columbia, they decided to take a novel approach – putting health-care providers and seniors side by side to work on their personal ACP. Their strategy not only resulted in the initiation of several advance care plans, it gave patients and physicians a better understanding of each others’ challenges and opportunities in having these important conversations.

“The workshop was a great chance for participants to learn from each other,” says Dr. Bradley. “It was quite enlightening to hear what it’s like to be in each other’s shoes. The three-hour session began with the 31 participants considering their own values and priorities, followed by a discussion of the legal issues and time to start the process of their planning. The facilitators emphasized that advance care planning is not an event, but a process of reflection, conversations, shared information and documentation”.

Feedback about the session was excellent. In a post-event survey, 83 per cent of participants said that as a result of the workshop they had initiated or continued their own advance care planning. Every attendee said they felt more capable of discussing their wishes with family and physicians. “I had been attempting to talk to my daughter and the workshop gave me an opportunity to discuss these issues,” said one senior. Physicians noted an increased level of comfort discussing ACP with patients after attending the workshop.

Bradley says the session was also life affirming, thanks to facilitators Dr. Charlie Chen and Cari Borenko Hoffmann. “Everyone left thinking about living well through all our days to maintain the best quality of life to the very end. We wanted to normalize the subject and make it a positive, fulfilling conversation.” As a result, the vast majority of attendees said they now feel more comfortable talking about it with friends and colleagues.

For April 2015, as part of National Advance Care Planning Day activities, Bradley and her planning committee are targeting a much wider audience to raise awareness and engage whole families in a positive way. “We want to normalize ACP. This year we are hosting an ACP Fair where we are reaching out to middle-aged people and are encouraging them to bring their elderly parents and adult children for three generations in conversation,” she says. “Advance care planning is for every age and every stage.”